Persistent Sentinel

An interview with Bunny Greenhouse, recipient of the 2006 Cliff Robertson Sentinel Award

By Dick Carozza

As the top civilian in charge of contract procurement in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bunny Greenhouse says she saw contract abuse leading up to the Iraq War. She went public with her accusations and says she was demoted for her honesty.  

Bunny Greenhouse says "by virtue of birth, I grew up in a financially poor - but lovingly rich - family setting." Her father only finished the first grade and her mother, the sixth. But as they raised Greenhouse and her five siblings in the racially segregated town of Rayville, La., they "had a dream and the love and drive to make it reality that all of their children would become the best of whatever we could become; we had no choice if we were to remain under their roof," Greenhouse says. Their efforts paid off. Two of the Hayes kids received doctorates, two are small-business owners, and another became one of the best players in the National Basketball Association.1 

Bunatine Greenhouse earned a bachelor's degree and three master's degrees, and rose to become the highest-ranking civilian at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In 1997, Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, the Corps' commander, hired her as the principal assistant responsible for contracting, or the PARC. She says Ballard gave her the responsibility of addressing an entrenched "good old boys" contracting culture that she says had been going on for more than 100 years. Greenhouse says she encountered opposition but still enjoyed Ballard's support and for three years she says her job reviews were the highest possible. But when Ballard left in 2000, she says, "the new command was poised to return to the good old days when contracts were awarded based on relationships commanders had with the industrial community."

In the lead-up to the Iraq War, she protested that the Corps gave Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, a no-bid, sole-source "emergency" contract to provide services in Iraq for two years and possibly five years. Greenhouse says she believed that the contract should be limited to one year. On the final contract, she wrote in ink her strong reservations.

(Later a Haliburton spokesperson said that her claims of overcharges were "misinformed" and the company "undertook substantial efforts - including two competitive procurement processes - to ensure that it was paying the lowest possible price."2)

Greenhouse reported her charges against the Corps at a Senate Democratic Policy Committee Hearing on June 27, 2005, hired a lawyer, and spoke to the national media. (See

Earlier, in October 2004, four days after Greenhouse briefed Ballard's replacement about the alleged improprieties, the new commander gave her his first letter that said she would be removed from her PARC position and demoted to a GS-15 level but with an opportunity to retire immediately. That was overturned on Oct. 21, 2004 when Greenhouse's attorney wrote to the acting secretary of the Army requesting an investigation. The acting secretary directed an independent Department of Defense Inspector General investigation and halted all actions to Greenhouse. Greenhouse also filed a formal request for investigation to members of Congress.

However, in July of 2005, the Corps commander told her that he was completing what he had begun in the fall. She would be removed from the Senior Executive Service (SES) and from her PARC position and demoted to a GS-15 program manager - this time with no opportunity to retire and no reinstatement rights to the SES. In August of 2005, three Congressional Democrats sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that said that her demotion "appears to be retaliation" for her Congressional testimony.

Greenhouse says that she hasn't seen any evidence that the Department of Defense has responded to the letter by the Congressional Democrats. "And I certainly have not been contacted by any investigative body regarding the unlawful demotion of my rank," she says. Meanwhile, she continues to appeal her case as she works "in a cubicle in a dark corner totally out of the mainstream of the workforce. I am barred totally from all major missions of the Corps. ... Regardless of the consequences, I am proud to be called a whistle-blower."

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