Washington, D.C. -- The International Association of Whistleblowers (IAW), whose members include hundreds of whistleblowers from across the globe, awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award to the father of modern whistleblowing, Mr. Ernie Fitzgerald.
Mr. James Holzrichter teamed up with with the Washington, D.C.-based Taxpayers Against Fraud ("TAF") and the Government Accountability Project (“GAP”) to make the award. Mr. Fitzgerald, who was nursing his wife at home, was able to attend the ceremony via special phone conferencing.
Tom Devine, Esq, legal director of GAP gave a complete review of Mr. Fitzgerald’s accomplishments and his amazing and colorful life. Mr. Fitzgerald is known for having done the unthinkable- he committed the truth. Fitzgerald blew the whistle on cost overruns in defense programs starting on Nov. 13, 1968, testifying initially to Senator Proxmire’s Joint Economic Committee on the C-5 transport aircraft $12 Billion cost overrun.
Senator Grassley has often spoken about Fitzgerald’s firestorm: “Back then, $2 billion was real money.Ernie’s truthful testimony about the C-5 cost overrun created a firestorm of controversy, and that is what caused President Nixon to issue his famous order caught on those famous tapes. The quote was: “Get rid of that SOB.” For speaking the truth, Ernie paid the ultimate price: He got fired, he got blackballed, and he was put on the official hit list. His career was over. And that was November 13, 1968. For speaking the truth–that is what it was all about, just speak the truth–about a $2 billion cost overrun on an airplane that somehow people wanted to cover up. As most of us know, though, Ernie got his job back, but it took him 12 years to get his job back. That is how much whistleblowers are appreciated in the bureaucracy at the Pentagon, or anyplace. [Sen. Grassley, March 6, 2006, U.S. Senate]
From then on, Grassley stated that “Fitzgerald was about as welcome as a skunk at a picnic….he was the father of all whistleblowers…an example for all of the whistleblowers who have followed in his footsteps.”
Devine reviewed the harassment the Air Force wrecked on Fitzgerald, ranging from being shut out of meetings to having his mail opened and his life investigated. Once directed to review some of the Air Force's highest profile programs, his new assignments included such esteemed endeavors as auditing a Defense Department bowling alley construction project in Thailand.
But Fitzgerald's never stopped. In fact, it fired him up, prompting him to write the muckraking classics The High Priests of Waste (Norton, 1972) and The Pentagonists: An Insider's View of Waste, Mismanagement and Fraud in Defense Spending (Houghton Mifflin, 1989). He lectured nationally on Pentagon profligacy and the lack of congressional oversight. After several years, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and devoted pro bono attorneys, Fitzgerald succeeded in getting back his job.
Although not as visible in recent years as in his heyday, Fitzgerald nonetheless continues to plaque the current administration. Senator Grassley made it clear: "To Ernie, saving the taxpayers' money was never just a goal - it was more than that. It was more like a calling. It was a matter of faith to him - keeping the faith with taxpayers."
IAW co-chair Dr. James Murtagh made clear that virtually every member of the group had asked to honor Mr. Fitzgerald at the meeting. Don Soeken, president of Integrity International, has started an archive project to collect and maintain the important papers of Fitzgerald and other pioneer whistleblowers. Other whistleblowers talked about Fitzgerald as more than just an icon- he had given counsel and encouragement to an entire generation who had sought out his help.
Although 82, and now two years after retiring from Pentagon, Mr. Fitzgerald made clear he is not done yet. “These times are two important” he told the assembled group. Mr. Fitzgerald’s wit and tenacity shown bright as he started to outline his ideas on new truths that need to be told.
Mr. Ernie Fitzgerald was an ordinary citizen with extraordinary courage who simply would not stand idly by. There never was a rose garden ceremony for Fitzgerald, despite Senator Grassley's repeated suggestions. But if there were a Mount Rushmore for whistleblowers, surely Ernie Fitzgerald would have a place, along with other monumental whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, and indeed, other eminences listed by the Douglas Ethics Award in Government. Whistleblowers are international in their scope, and both US and global whistleblowers have taken inspiration from Ernie Fitzgerald.
A more fitting tribute? Fitzgerald saved untold billions for taxpayers, and I propose his face should be smiling back from some US greenback (possibly, a new $2 dollar bill?), reminding us all that the buck truly stops with each of us.