Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse exposed Government Procurement Fraud. She objected to illegal no-bid contracts between Halliburton and the Army Corps of Engineers for the reconstruction of Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Ms. Greenhouse, at the time the highest-ranking civilian-contracting official at the Army Corps of Engineers, had chief responsibility for reviewing adherence to Pentagon rules intended to shield awards from outside influence and promote competition. Her disclosures cost her her career, but also resulted in significant reforms prohibiting no-bid contracts. In 2019, the CBS prime time show “Whistleblower” told Ms. Greenhouse’s story. Watch a clip from the episode: Whistleblower exposes $7 billion no-bid Defense Department contract.
Ms. Greenhouse, at the time the highest-ranking civilian-contracting official at the Army Corps of Engineers, had chief responsibility for reviewing adherence to Pentagon rules intended to shield awards from outside influence and promote competition.
As the Iraq War heated up early in 2003, the Army was anxious to give millions of taxpayer dollars to Halliburton through no-bid contracts. They were willing to bend the rules, violate the law, and grant the company that Vice President Dick Cheney led before his election a massively profitable no-bid contract. When every other official was jumping on the bandwagon to give away taxpayer dollars, only one high ranking Army official pointed out that federal law required the Army to look for ways to make the contracts competitive. Bunny Greenhouse protested, in writing, right on the face of one of Halliburton’s contracts. She cited the law that protects taxpayers from this type of abuse. She became a whistleblower.
Defense Department officials were caught by Ms. Greenhouse illegally steering contracts to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR). So, on subsequent contracts, those same officials decided to bypass her authority, which is illegal and steered the contracts to KBR anyway. Through it all, Ms. Greenhouse upheld her obligation to the public trust that these contracts remain open to competitive bidding, according to law.
The Defense Department Inspector General launched an investigation into Ms. Greenhouse’s allegations. She provided invaluable information to the FBI in its criminal investigation of KBR and the Defense Department. North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, in a hearing before the Democratic Policy Committee, explained the importance of Ms. Greenhouse’s case.
Some of the contracts Ms. Greenhouse says she questioned included a non-competitive agreement with the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root in early 2003 for Iraqi oil repairs. Initially worth up to $7 billion over five years, the contract attracted debate in Congress and the news media. In the resulting firestorm, the government reduced the contract to a one-year term and supplanted by a competitive process, just as Ms. Greenhouse initially recommended.
Ms. Greenhouse said that in at least one case she witnessed, Army officials inappropriately allowed representatives of Halliburton to sit in as they discussed the terms of a contract in violation of the law. Her accusations offer the first extended account of arguments that roiled inside the military bureaucracy over contracts with the company.
After a prolonged and highly contentious legal battle, her whistleblower attorneys forced the Army Corps to settle the case. It agreed to provide Ms. Greenhouse full compensation for the damages she suffered and agreed to pay her attorney’s fees and costs. Ms. Greenhouse’s disclosures resulted in significant reforms prohibiting no-bid contracts.
Before her case settled, Ms. Greenhouse testified about her experience as a whistleblower, stressing the importance of protecting whistleblowers, and ultimately protecting the American people against fraud. In this testimony, she told her story best:
My name is Bunnatine Greenhouse. I thank the Committee for allowing me to appear here today. As you may be aware, I was the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Procurement Executive and Principal Assistant Responsible for Contracting (PARC). I am the first black female to have held a Senior Executive Service position within the Army Corps of Engineers. A career spanning over 23 years ended on August 27, 2005, when I was removed from the Senior Executive Service and from contracting. I was removed after I raised concerns over the award of a $7 billion sole source, no compete, cost plus contract to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (“KBR”) known as the Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) contract. The award of this contract and other contracts related to the RIO contract represent the worst contract abuse I witnessed during my professional career.
Before the contract was awarded, I voiced great concern over the legality of the selection of KBR, the total lack of competition and the excessive duration of the RIO contract. I explained to representatives from the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army and the Army Corps that granting a contract for two base years with the potential to extend the contract for an additional three years was simply unconscionable under the compelling emergency justification that was identified as the basis for awarding the contract to KBR. All of my objections were ignored and so in February 2003 I chose to pen next to my signature on a critical contracting document my concern over the duration of the contract that was going to be awarded to Halliburton/KBR.
In October of 2004 I received notice that I was to be demoted and removed from the SES. At that juncture the concerns I had over the award of the RIO contract and other contract abuses related to Halliburton/KBR were brought to the attention of members of Congress and the public.
In June of 2005 I was asked to appear before this Committee, and I agreed to do so. Just prior to my appearance, the Army Corps’ Acting General Counsel let me know in no uncertain terms that it would not be in my best interest to do so. I ignored this threat to my professional career and swiftly thereafter I was removed from the SES and from contracting.
Things have not fared well for me since then.
On the contracting side, I had long been acknowledged as the most knowledgeable and critical thinking contracting professional within the Army Corps, yet there was no role for me to play in response to Katrina.
On the civil works side, I am a Defense Systems Management College certified program manager, with a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University, and a War College master’s degree in national resources strategy, a master’s degree in Business Management and a graduate of the Defense Senior Acquisition Course, yet there was no role for me to play in the face of the Katrina disaster.
Instead, I was systematically excluded from the Katrina management meetings that were held in my office area, behind closed doors.
I was born and raised in Louisiana and am a member of the Louisiana Hall of Fame for Women in Government, and I can assure you that it pained me greatly that I was not permitted to assist with the Katrina disaster.
Since my demotion I have experienced isolation; I continue to receive inappropriately down-graded performance reviews; my top secret clearance has been withdrawn; individuals have attempted to take credit for my work, no training opportunities have been identified since I have no Engineering and Construction mission responsibilities, and I have been prevented from returning to my contracting career field.
Finally, it is paramount for this Committee to recognize that my removal has caused a deep chill to descend over the government contracting community and the SES Corps. Contracting officers now know that speaking up against contracting abuses will not bring them praise but can cost them their jobs.
Bunny’s case received extensive worldwide attention. In a 2008 book, the PBS produces for the respected TV show “NOW” described Ms. Greenhouse as one of America’s leading whistleblowers who “believes that good government requires a certain amount of transparency and that corruption is best deterred by accountability.” Her story was covered by Democracy Now, Washington Post, NBC Nightly News, Time, CBS News, MSNBC, New York Times, and USA Today. Ms. Greenhouse was a guest along with Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto attorneys on a C-SPAN Close-Up Show discussing her whistleblowing and the importance of protecting courageous employees who risk their jobs serving the public interest. In 2019, the CBS prime time show “Whistleblower” featured Ms. Greenhouse in its episode entitled: Whistleblower exposes $7 billion no-bid Defense Department contract.
Postscript: Legal Precedent
To defend whistleblowers like Bunny Greenhouse, the law firm had pioneered legal methods to have federal employee whistleblower cases heard by a jury of their peers in federal court. Two major appeals court precedents, Bonds v. HHS and Ikossi v. Navy, set the national standard permitting Ms. Greenhouse to file her case in U.S. district court, thereby avoiding the politically appointed Merit Systems Protection Board from controlling her case. The precedent applied to “mixed cases,” like Ms. Greenhouse’s, in which there was both a whistleblower retaliation case and a discrimination claim.