When Franz Gayl went to Iraq as a civil servant science advisor in 2006, he learned of equipment shortages that were endangering soldiers. But when he tried to address these shortages through his chain of command he was ignored. By reaching out to Congress and the press, he brought much needed attention to these problems, but he also angered his superiors, threatening his career. Franz says that if the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act had passed, he would have had adequate protections against his treatment in the workplace.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: While the secret hold was reformed last week, it was too late to save the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, and it was also too late for whistleblower Franz Gayl. After retiring from the Marines in 2002, Gayl immediately went back into civil service, working at the Pentagon. In 2006, he landed in Iraq as a science advisor to Marine Lieutenant General Richard Zilmer. There, Gayl kept hearing the same complaint from Marine commanders on the ground. Soldiers were desperately in need of new and better equipment. In particular, they needed transport vehicles that were less vulnerable to improvised explosive devices or IEDs. What they needed were MRAPs, Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles. And, in fact, Gayl learned that a commander had already submitted an urgent request to Washington for MRAPs as far back as 2005, and the request had been ignored for 18 months. When Gayl returned to the U.S. in 2007, he spoke out about how equipment shortages plagued the Marines, how they were still dying in Humvees two years after that commander’s call for better armored vehicles. His campaign drew a lot of attention from Congress, from reporters – and, unfortunately, from his employers. Franz, welcome to the show.
FRANZ GAYL: Hi, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So in 2006, when you were deployed as science advisor to Lieutenant General Richard Zilmer, what was the situation with regard to the MRAPs?
FRANZ GAYL: Well, the MRAPs hadn't been fielded en masse at that point, and that was a tragedy because the Marines and soldiers in Al Anbar Province still needed to depend on armored Humvees for transportation. And the armored Humvees were being routinely destroyed by the ever more sophisticated IEDs. The same sorts of attacks wouldn't have damaged or destroyed MRAPs to the same extent, and there would have been many more survivors and far fewer maimings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So briefly describe what steps you took to step up the delivery of MRAPs.
FRANZ GAYL: When I came back to the United States and to the Pentagon, I went ahead and tried to bring up the issue that an urgent need in 2005 had been buried in the bureaucracy and that that had cost lives.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So was the situation remedied by the time you came back and you were drawing attention to a past mistake or was the problem still ongoing?
FRANZ GAYL: It wasn't just the MRAP. There were many, many other capabilities and devices that had been requested that had been slowed down or stopped altogether. So the MRAP was just sort of the poster child for these things. The procurement of MRAPs had certainly been set in motion. As soon as I made my disclosures, and eventually to the media and to Congress, after contacting or being contacted by then-Senator Biden’s office, I did talk to Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today, and this was in early 2007. And that led to a pretty significant article that was, as I understand today, ultimately read by the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates. It was the first time that it was brought to his attention that there was really a problem, and it led to the MRAP becoming a priority program within the Pentagon for procurement.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why do you think the procurement officers that you ran up against were resistant to the MRAP?
FRANZ GAYL: The fact is the MRAP was something that had no advocates in the procurement bureaucracy. It was an unanticipated request from the forces in Al Anbar Province, and it was very expensive. It did not fit into the programs that Quantico Marine Corps Combat Development Command officials had envisioned.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So they would have had to have carved out some money from some other program in order to supply MRAPs.
FRANZ GAYL: Exactly. Fortunately, all the services have an urgent process for when the commander in the field determines that something is immediately needed that accelerates the procurement of those specific capabilities or devices. And independent of whether money has been programmed for that, over the long term, it needs to be paid for now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the original request for MRAPs was buried for 18 months.
FRANZ GAYL: That was probably a billion-and-a-half dollar request. That was a huge chunk of money. It would have come from programs that were already solid and healthy and moving along, and had plenty of advocates. There was a strong institutional incentive not to reprogram, and that’s the case with all bureaucracies. That’s often in conflict with the immediate [LAUGHS] needs of the guys on the ground.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When your attempts to point out these issues failed internally, you went outside the chain of command; you went to the press. This was very effective in drawing attention to the issue but it also had the effect of escalating action against you in the Pentagon.
FRANZ GAYL: Well, you know, Brooke, I mean, I'm a Marine and, you know, I'm a part of the Marine family. I love the Marine Corps. It’s been my whole life. The last thing I ever [LAUGHS] wanted to do was go completely outside the chain of command. I feel like a narc, like a traitor, leaving the family to report something very embarrassing. Well, when I did try to work within the system when I got back, I had a presentation set to go to the Office of the Secretary of Defense with these issues, not just MRAP but many others, comparing the delays in fielding to the cost on the ground. As soon as my supervisor saw the actual words and examples I was using, I was prohibiting from presenting, as I was invited to do, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. And so I had a decision to make. I can either continue to work inside the system, which was hopeless, obviously, or I can get this problem fixed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Could you sort of summarize briefly some of the reprisal actions they took?
FRANZ GAYL: Okay. Initially. I got an official reprimand signed by my supervisors. Then I got a formal reprimand, which is a much more serious piece of paper [LAUGHS] that actually stays in your record. Then I got a proposal by my supervisor to suspend me without pay for a couple of weeks. Well, that was reversed by the Office of Special Counsel, and they were very helpful, and the Government Accountability Project has helped me out. Well, the next things that came up, rock-bottom appraisals, then in 2009, I want to say, a performance improvement program, which is usually the last step before an employee is fired in the government, finally, a proposal, a formal proposal, to demote me and rewrite my job description entirely to eliminate my troublesome science and technology advisory functions. Well, they figure they demote me and they take away that particular responsibility, and that would motivate me to stop or leave the civil service altogether. Finally, relatively recently, there were Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigations. They investigated me three times. One of those investigations has now led to my current circumstance, in which I have now been stripped of all my security clearances and I have been placed on administrative leave, and I have been banned from the Pentagon. Before that, I had a really good career. I mean, I was [LAUGHS], I was well liked before that. And it certainly began to be a problem when I got back.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, if the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act had passed, you would have been able to challenge these investigations directly, right?
FRANZ GAYL: Yes. I would have had a right to fight the retaliatory investigation, the NCIS investigation, most importantly the one that is connected to the reason I've been placed on administrative leave and stripped of clearances. I could have done it at the time it was initiated.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Also, if the act had passed, your suspension would have triggered your right to a jury trial and the chance to challenge the suspension of your security clearances.
FRANZ GAYL: Well, the most important thing on the jury trial is, yes, I would have been able to challenge immediately the proposal to indefinitely suspend me without pay. To date, most people in my position, the only protection they've had - and it happened with me, too - is that some reporter who was concerned about this basically did the challenging. And in this case it was Jeff Smith from The Washington Post. He called the Marine Corps and asked them about this in preparation for writing an article, and within hours the Marine Corps rescinded the action of proposing to suspend me indefinitely without pay. But that’s not a legal protection. That’s nothing that can be guaranteed that will happen again for every whistleblower. And a right to a jury trial would allow a jury of peers, not necessarily tied to the interests of the Pentagon or the Marine Corps, to take a look at the thing objectively.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
FRANZ GAYL: No. I really did try to stay within the process, with the permission of my supervisors, which I initially had. But it became so clear that possible negligence by officials, either knowing or unknowingly, allowed delays to take place that had measurable cost in tragic casualties on the ground. That couldn't leave the Marine Corps, and we weren't even willing to discuss it with the Department of Defense. And when that avenue was shut permanently, that’s when I went to the press and, most importantly, to Congress.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what’s the next step?
FRANZ GAYL: Well, in my case, I don't know. I think the Department of the Navy right now is looking at whether I deserve to hold security clearance, based on what the Marine Corps is alleging against me. I'm a defective human being, like anybody else. Anyone could have done things perfectly or better, but I was doing what I thought was the right and necessary thing at the time, and I'm glad that it had some positive impact. And I'd like to be vindicated at some level, and at the same time be gainfully employed. Right now I don't really feel that I'm gainfully [LAUGHS] employed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
FRANZ GAYL: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Franz Gayl enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1974 and retired as a major in 2002, and is currently a civil servant on administrative leave from the Pentagon.
[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Through the efforts of our Blow the Whistle Project, you, our listeners, have confirmed with the offices of 66 senators that they are not responsible for placing the anonymous hold that killed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. But we are still searching for the one who did. Go to wnyc.org/blowthewhistle and find the senators that have not yet given us confirmation. Call their offices. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with their response, and please be sure to get the name of the person you talked to. Happy hunting!
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BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Nazanin Rafsanjani, Alex Goldman, P.J. Vogt and Sarah Abdurrahman, with help from Andrew Carson and Carlin Galietti, and edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Rob Granniss.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.