I am a whistleblower. For most of my term, beginning in October 2007, I was an official for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, specifically, the Water Quality Division (ODEQ/WQD). In addition to monitoring the sampling requirements of drinking water suppliers for biological agents that can cause disease, I was also responsible for coordinating the formal routines of the agency's central response to emergency situations and the issuance of water-use advisories, sometimes called "boil orders."
For most of my nearly nine-year tenure, I received excellent written reviews and commendable yearly evaluations, including letters of references from EPA officials overseeing a delegated program that I coordinated at ODEQ . As a biologist with a doctoral degree, years of experience designing laboratory and field experiments and studies, teaching in a wide variety of settings, speaking in public and organizing civic groups--I sought to advance practices and procedures making them scientifically more sound, rational and adhering to good sampling strategies regarding these emergency responses. I tried to promote good practices in communications. This was my great offense.
I helped institute and develop, alone or in collaboration with engineers, attorneys, or other officials and staff members, a variety of office practices, enforcement devices and an extremely popular, for-credit training series: The Total Coliform Rule Workshop.
I came to see areas in need of improvement as well activities and practices that caused notable concern. Indeed, I believe, as with ODEQ's sister agency, the Michigan DEQ involved in the Flint, Michigan Water Scandal, that there was desperate need for systematic re-organization. Few would doubt that this necessary throughout many governmental agencies—thus the current popularity for “draining the swamp.” The behaviors of individuals within these agencies that are in need of change may range from the ineffective and incompetent to the malfeasant--and even the criminal.
I tried to work patiently within the system for many years. I am an integrity professional. I was obedient and devoted to my job and the People of Oklahoma. Never in any of this was there ever any criticism of my performance, and--to the contrary--only praise for my work.
Regrettably, but as is not uncommon in bureaucratic-government work, stubborn, petty and turf-protecting resistance intruded itself into sincere and praiseworthy activity. To provide one example of the culture at Oklahoma DEQ, in seeking a transfer and promotion within DEQ, it was explained to me after an interview that I had failed on one very important question: “What is the most important rule at DEQ?” The answer which I failed to apprehend: “Don’t change anything.”
I paid a severe price for my professionalism as a full reading here will indicate. I began to suffer bullying by managers early in my tenure. One new and very insecure manager impulsively responded upon hearing a complimentary assessment of me by my supervisor: "I am going to crush the can-do spirit out you,” was his angry threat at the end of his pointed finger. On a subsequent occasion, this same manager outrageously and angrily shut down an emergency meeting involving a water emergency by screaming at me to “shut up” as I calmly introduced a novel idea for the provision of commercially-bottled water to hard-pressed food-service businesses whose doors were closed because of the water-use advisory. As a result of this particular incident, I prevailed in an in-house grievance. This success of mine was followed some months later by a retaliatory and bogus, manufactured personnel action against me. We know and understand this kind of phenomenon as typical of disordered organizations. Such organizations arrive at this condition by a history of punishing the good and alternatively wrongfully protecting the misbehavior of its clique of managers. Such a disorder festers and grows.
Low grade harassment continued and was met with extreme forbearance on my part for a number of years.
At the outset of 2014, I responded to a new agency director's request, after my offering, that I supply a proposal for potential areas and opportunity for improvement within the agency, particularly regarding the Water Quality Division with which I was familiar. Having done this, I began to immediately suffer renewed and escalated, overt attacks as well as passive-aggressive Machiavellian tactics and machinations coincident with the appearance of a new set of upper-level managers. This involved bizarre and preposterous reports and insinuations about me, concocted unverified accusations, brazen lying, toxic gossip, ostracism, stenotic flows of information and so on. Thus, the situation had developed into a full-blown case of workplace mobbing with apparent and serious intent of malice. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of workplace mobbing, please see a description here:
as well as such works as Overcoming Mobbing (2014: Duffy & Sperry); Mobbed! (2016: Harper); and Mobbing (1999: Davenport, et al.).
I will be reposting my video on the topic on a new platform soon, as well as developing more on the topic of mobbing on a new website dedicated solely to the general problem of workplace and organizational mobbing and associated bullying events. Please note, though workplace mobbing and bullying may overlap in associated clusters of activities, they are increasingly recognized as distinct phenomena behaviorally and with regard to their psychological and social causes and effects. Effectively dealing with these two modes of harassment requires different responses by the target-victims, the friends and professional supporters of the mobbing target-victims (viz., lawyers, clinicians, and investigators), as well as those honest administrators, personnel officials and students of organizational behavior who genuinely want to build good and effective agencies, companies and organizations.
Workplace and organizational mobbing, unlike bullying, is a coordinated attack involving multiple levels of the organization and management. Mobbing involves supervisor-enabled and management-encouraged conditions of unjust communication; false accusation; outlandish innuendo; defamatory insinuation; shadow files; libel & slander; disingenuous and intrusive personal investigations; dubious in-house; sham hearings; uneven scrutiny; ad hoc reprimands or personnel actions; ostracism; gaslighting; gangstalking spread of harassment involving the surrounding community; constraining of the normal latitude of actions; impedance or denial of access to necessary information; destruction of reputation, respect, status, career, social and familial support; blackballing from future jobs; interference of trade; and--not infrequently—the destruction of health and life itself. One case has been reported to me of a manager directed to harass his employee only to have that employee subsequently commit suicide. All instances of workplace mobbing are an unethical mode of personnel management.
But the problems at the Oklahoma DEQ were not merely personnel matters. Some were fundamental to it mission of protecting public health and the integrity of the environment. I was long concerned about questionable practices and possible violations of state and federal laws regarding safe drinking water by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. I dutifully and respectfully reported or referenced these in multiple grievances. These were ignored by both the agency itself and the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission (OMPC), the latter of which failed to conduct adequate investigations or, as we are arguing in our appeals, proper and sound adjudication.
To give you one example, during a period of intensified budgetary wrestling between the ODEQ and the State Legislature in 2011, roughly a hundred members of the ODEQ/WQD were assembled where the budgetary problem was reference and the division Director's responses were discussed. On this particular occasion, the Director indicated that staff would be reassigned, at her discretion, from providing technical assistance for water systems (and therefore the public) to knowingly less effective paperwork enforcement tasks. The implications of this were immediately obvious to those listening. Probably few should mistake this as anything other than a retaliatory act aimed like a political weapon at the Legislature and, of course, straight through to the public. Just so this threat would not be misunderstood, she added (an exact quote recorded at the time): "We will live with increased risk of water-related illness." I discussed this troubling policy more than once with a manager who expressed her shared concern and reinforced the obvious interpretation of this as a retaliatory action--playing for budgetary dollars using public health as a chess piece.
I would suggest to you that this is a completely inappropriate attitude for a public servant responsible for a sector of public health. I would suggest to you that this attitude--as it was surely implemented into practice--is patently malfeasant and, possibly, criminally so.
There were a number of other very dubious activities that either put public health at risk or put integrity professionals, who are the ultimate protection of public health, at risk of unjust punitive actions—as turned out to be the case for me.
In early 2016, I paid a visit to the Oklahoma City office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with a number of concerns about possible, serious violations. The FBI referred the matter to, then, Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt's office, for investigation. On March 28, 2016, I met with an AG's Office Investigator and a Grand Jury Attorney. I provided an initial sample of evidence involving one of my concerns. I was assured by these officials that they would seek further evidence from ODEQ--I presumed by subpoena. Roughly two weeks later, on April 14, 2016, I was informed that I was being placed on the first of three, rapidly sequenced, suspensions--the first without pay. I was issued a memo prohibiting me from asking for letters of recommendations from individuals who could best supply such references. On August 12, 2016, having been on suspension essentially all summer, I was informed that I was terminated from my service at ODEQ. This confluence of facts is the basis for a sound and rational suspicion of a grave abuse of power and the harassment of a whistleblower.
I courageously acted as a dutiful and concerned civil servant in what I now have come to see was a toxic bureaucracy that may well be trapped in the cycle of corruption. Such cycles typically involve (1) unjustified secrecy, cover-ups and lying by managers and easily cowed subordinates; (2) malignant & obsequious obedience by self-serving and self-protecting members of in-groups and their confederates; (3) incompetence, wrongdoing, malfeasance, and perhaps even criminal activities in the mission and duties of the agency and towards integrity professionals within the organization, towards members and organizations within the regulated population, and towards the general public at large.
Cycles of corruption are made easier to sustain when there is a pre-existing ground for an insider class. The ODEQ was formed January 1, 1993. The agency was created with employees reassigned from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. The founding director of ODEQ intentionally selected many members of his own religious affiliation, the Church of Christ, to fill the major executive and managerial positions. Though lessened somewhat as a result of criticism of such a disproportionate demographic situation, this over-representation in leadership and other positions by members of the Church of Christ is still a very prominent feature of ODEQ. On my website, again,
I will develop some possible implications of this regarding the operation--and the ills--of a governmental agency. Such a deliberate packing of an agency with church members creates an unhealthy tribal system and is contrary to American notions of the separation of church and state. In one case before state District Court, I have filed a complaint regarding the introduction of one person’s Mormonism as a topic in enforcement proceedings.
Further exacerbating this, what I submit to be an unhealthy situation regarding the makeup of ODEQ, is the rather pervasive system of nepotism in the agency, not to mention cronyism. This is completely inappropriate to healthy functioning in an agency that must not only gather together very competent technical professionals, but must also provide for an environment where technical decisions and be examined, scrutinized and internally challenged. More than once it was explained to me that politics superseded rational decision-making in the cases where I submitted my scientifically, statistically and rationally-based perspectives on enforcement or the mitigation of an emergency situation.
Notice, I said that I offered my perspectives on decision. That is, I--in good order--offered an alternative perspective or assessment (in serious matters withholding moral support when informed conscience dictates), while I complied with my required, official activity (material support). This describes a very important aspect of ethical duties of obedience by a professional subordinate. This is what I promised when asked at my interview in September 2007. In this I did not fail.
Unfortunately, DEQ managers, in significant numbers, frequently did not display a requisite self-confidence, professional objectivity, curiosity, ethical concern for the rational assessments and courage in the face of downward pressure. The managerial culture—sadly and dangerously for a technical agency concerned with public health—was not skilled at decision making, group meeting, or interacting properly and respectfully toward extremely dedicated, intelligent and dutiful subordinates. For too long a military-like culture, authoritarian, if not clandestine racketeering-like environment had developed. It is no exaggeration to say that outside of a parent-child relationship (and a parent to small child relationship at that), many managers at DEQ are incapable of interacting effectively and constructively. They take it as an insulting challenge to their personal identity and positional authority, when a professional sincerely and respectfully attempts to communicate a rational and technical point. This is entirely unacceptable and it is dangerous. It creates an environment where horrible decisions are made and negligence is invited. One can think of numerous industrial accidents from The Shuttle “O” ring to the recent derailment of an Amtrak train outside of Seattle. All of these involve government oversight as well. Close to the water story is that, as mentioned already, of the case in Flint, Michigan and involving ODEQ’s sister agency, MDEQ and the handing down of felony charges.
A retired, senior member of the agency involved in my hiring and supervision till his retirement, described me as the best official serving the role as TCR coordinator he ever observed. He testified on my behalf at the first of my trials along with a TCR coordinator from another state who retired to Oklahoma and served briefly at ODEQ, but had a good opportunity to observe the section in which we commonly worked.
In my last, roughly, year and a half, I served as a compliance officer in the waste water section of the same division and agency. Here, in addition to good reviews by ODEQ for my performance and praise from EPA, I began to think about developing some innovative ideas to the problem of better assessing the potential toxicity of natural waters and effluents from human activity and industry into those waters. I did this employing my background in electrophysiology and utilizing pharmacological methods.
I thought it possible to improve upon present methods approved by the EPA, specifically the Whole Effluent Toxicity Test (WET Test). My creative and innovative speculations did not in any way hinder my work and were assessed by the EPA as greatly improving upon ODEQ program performance over the previous two decades. Managers in the waste water section, viz., ODEQ/WQD, rather than being delighted, were angered by my discussing my thoughts on this particular innovation, One woman, a manager, angrily and emphatically asserted: "DEQ will not be adopting that method." If ODEQ managers had even allowed themselves to discuss this with me they would have understood that there was no merit for such concern, since full development and implementation of such an innovation would likely not even occur during my tenure--perhaps even theirs.
Besides, if what I was suggesting was scientifically sound and if it did in fact represent an advancement of methodology, why not be eager to hear it out? Why not be proud, again if successful, to have its inception at ODEQ. This is how profoundly jaundiced their hysterical, unfounded, wrongful prejudice of me was.
In a time when there are growing concerns about pollutants in waters of the state, throughout the United States and worldwide, including the emerging concern of pharmaceuticals and hormone-like compounds affecting humans and wildlife, even possibly causing cancers and sterility in young males, why not encourage every possible idea possessing reasonable merit? Why punish me for excelling in my job?
The authors, Peter and Hull (1969: The Peter Principle), describe a practice that they call, "exfoliation of the tails." Every organization of course must, regrettably, let some employees go. There are legitimate means of doing so when good cause necessitates such action. But when an organization begins to deteriorate, when it becomes a toxic environment, and when possibly corruption and even criminality have set in, the leadership unscrupulously begin to eliminate good workers as well the bad. Why? Because ethical, diligent, creative, talented, communicatively capable and rational employees--the integrity professionals--represent a threat to the devolving system of insecure leaders. As I indicated in my proposal to the current director of the agency: A-s hire A-s; B-s hire C-s. This is frank language and no less is due for a senior and mature executive.
You should be interested because it is integrity workers, such as many including myself, that are the true assurance you have of your government serving you properly. We all want clean water and clean government. But it is not abstract and inanimate artifacts of government that primary safeguard the public’s interests. It is instead dedicated and capable professionals and support staff that ensure that the good is achieved. In this light, I am completely proud of my service to the People of Oklahoma as well as to the American taxpayer who fund much of what I did.
Consider—as a poignant historical example--what went wrong when external forces came to play upon highly trained, technical professionals during the weekend of November 22 through 25, 1963--and beyond. What resulted was the distortion and corruption of evidence as well as the rational judgements, procedures and/or reporting that surgeons, physicians, pathologists, photographic experts and criminal investigators. This violation of good and common-sense practices was imposed by external political and conspiratorial interests inappropriately applying military systems of obedience where civilian scientific and logical processes should have ruled.
What followed was a nation and world torn by wars, social disintegration and an erosion of confidence that was described by historical investigator, Douglas Horne, as the legacy of the JFK assassination and cover up. Specifically, "[T]he slow, gradual exposure of the cover-up has been the primary cause of the corrosive loss of faith in the U.S. government: most people no longer trust the United States government."
We all want, as I said earlier, clean water and clean government. Helping me win this case will be a relatively low-cost way of initiating some changes--and putting potentially corrupt bureaucrats--on notice that old, unjust, or even illegal, behaviors will not be rewarded and perhaps punished.
I faced an uphill battle at ODEQ. I was diligent, honest and obedient in a very difficult situation. I worked when I was in the office and I accomplished a lot. More could have been accomplished if instead of being petty, unjust and committed to wasteful activities such as mobbing, the managers at ODEQ would have treated me and others properly as the professionals that we were. Instead, the agency rewards those who sleep nearly all day, play games on electronic tablets (and then fall asleep) and those who conduct private businesses using ODEQ (read taxpayer) time and equipment. I did none of that. I did what a talented and highly honest manager would desire in a subordinate.
I have been fighting this legal battle for myself—and for you—since 2014. I have suffered the loss of income for a year and a half. Additionally, I have incurred many debts in an attempt to survive and to legally protect my interests and those of the people. I am unable to repay these existing debts with penalties mounting for institutional lenders. I have both paid and unpaid legal bills in the tens of thousands of dollars--with more rapidly accumulating. Fighting a government agency in court nearly always, as many of you know, involves the parsing of cases into dozens of small actions interspersed with numerous delays. One can only suspect that the delays and cumbersome nature of legal actions against the government are frivolous and intended to exhaust the resources and will of the complainant. My retirement funds are completely gone and I have been without medical insurance for a year and a half—with detrimental effects to my health. My tangible losses exceed $120,000 already. New costs and fees for legal activity, including expert witnesses and investigations, as well as my very modest, bare-bones living expenses, healthcare costs and repayment of personal loans since the legal activities began in 2014 are rapidly soaring upwards towards $200,000 and beyond. My intangible and personal losses and harms have been devastating.
Who benefits from you assisting me? Of course, I benefit from your assistance---but it is critically important to realize that you benefit; our nation benefits. This is no pious sentiment. This affects your health, even you potentially your life as I have seen in just my time at ODEQ.
Who should be interested? Individual citizens who can give a little as a few dollars, to those who can give substantially more. Foundations interested in clean environments and water, government reform, public policy, schools of public administration, business management, public health and law should all see the benefit of partnering with my cause.
Industry associations and supplier-advocacy groups involved with drinking water and waste water might be particularly interested as well as those industries supplying equipment for distribution systems, plant operation, monitoring and control.
There is a growing awareness of the problem of workplace mobbing. This should interest schools of medicine and professional associations with interests in psychiatry, clinical counselling, organizational behavior, personnel affairs as well programs and societies representing and advancing the field of employment and tort law.
Help me to help you to demand--and get--the government that you deserve. You do not need dishonest leadership in your bureaucracies. No more Flint Water Crises; no more Oklahoma-DEQ style mismanagement.
Please help secure securing clean water and clean government and protecting integrity professionals working as your public servants.
- Barbara Dougherty
- Mark Moes
- Michael Wilmer
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