When Gordon Hamel was fired from an obscure federal agency last year, his boss gave the reason as sexual harassment and insubordination. But congressional investigators now think Hamel may have been fired because he blew the whistle on his agency.
Hamel's complaints about the goings on at the President's Commission on Executive Exchange have since sparked at least three federal investigations into the agency that are still pending. His firing was suspended, and he is now on leave awaiting the outcome of a personnel appeal.Whether Hamel is a conscientious whis-tle-blower or a malcontent, as his bosses claim, is up to a federal personnel board to determine. But he has managed to stir up a virtually unknown agency that would have preferred to continue business as usual.
The President's Commission on Executive Exchange places corporate executives in one-year government posts and sends federal bureaucrats to work for awhile in the private sector.
We recently reported on some questionable placements by the agency - putting business people in key government jobs where they were in a position to benefit the companies and industries that had their loyalties. Partisan politics are also at work, favoring the companies that are big contributors to the GOP.
In 1989, commission director Betty Heitman hired Hamel as director of placement. Hamel soon noticed problems, including what he saw as violations of federal spending laws and some questionable job placements.
The commission was running an experimental program that allowed corporate executives to work for the government while being paid by their companies. Heitman liked the idea and pushed to make it a permanent arrangement, touting it as a savings to taxpayers.
But top government attorneys didn't see it that way. They said the program could allow private companies to use public office for inside information and personal gain, creating public mistrust. And the savings in salaries were only modest.
Yet Heitman continued to urge Bush and other top officials to support the idea. She even tried to get White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray to take a private lawyer into his office under the program while still on the payroll of a law firm. Gray declined in writing, saying he was concerned "about having an outside entity - even a law firm - pay the salary of an individual working for the government."
Richard Seline, the commission's chief of staff, said the lawyer merely wanted some government experience and was willing to work without a salary for a few months.
By last July, Hamel had seen enough. He took several complaints about the commission to top government investigators. When Heitman found out, she told the same investigators that he was disruptive. She suspended him and later fired him.