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INTERVIEW Whistleblowef s Vindication George Green Wins One Fight Begins Another G ” EORGE GREEN IS AN ANGRY man, ” Brett Campbell began in these pages, July 12, 1991. As Campbell told the story, before Green was the state’s most prominent whistleblower, he was the Department of Human Service’s staff architect. Hired in 1983, he was the only staff architect for an agency with seventeen thousand employees working in seven hundred offices. He was brought on to add “market savvy” to the public sectorhis education and experience in private practice, Green said in an interview, made much of his job a series of “simple technical decisions. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how many square feet are in a building or what level of insulation you get from walls, or what the diameter of the pipe is.” But by 1984, Green began to understand that state construction contracts were something less than contracts negotiated in the private sector. “The taxpayers paid market price for a building and got eightypercent compliance. And that really dis tressed me because I couldn’t figure out how, well, if eighty percent was good enough now, was seventy percent good the following day? Was sixty percent good? So early on, I discovered a pattern.” After his superiors at the agency, including then-commissioner Ron Lindsey, failed to respond to charges of fraud and mismanagement on agency construction projects, Green took his complaints to El Paso legislator Jack Vowell. The DHS responded by hiring private investigators to follow Green, firing him, and filing charges against him in Travis County. The charges were dropped, but Green filed suit against the agency under the state’s. whistleblower law, and in 1991 a Travis County jury awarded him 13.7 million dollars. The decision was upheld by the Third Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court. Before he could collect, however, Green had to persuade the Legislature to appropriate the funds to pay him. When the Legislature convened in 1995, Green .found a Senate willing to accommodate him and a House resolved to “ignore the jury’s verdict.” He hired a lobbyist and a publicist, fought his fight in the Legislature and the “court of public opinion, and in the final hours of the session stood by and watched as the House failed to bring his appropriation bill to the floor for a vote. Long before the clock ran out he had turned down offers of 5.5 and 8.9 million dollars. “I wasn’t going to accept anything,” he said, “except the full measure of justice.” In mid-September, Green and his attorneys made an offer to the Legislative Budget Board. Green would abate some of the punitive damages, he said, if the state would agree to pay the full amount the jury awarded him. \(By that point, with interest, the state owed him almost twenty million agreed to pay Greenand the hundreds of other claimants whose much smaller claims were put on hold while the Legislature kept Green at bay. In a post-settlement interview in the Observer office, Green discussed the process, his concern that the agency that employed him has learned nothing from the experience, and his disappointment with the revision of the state’s whistleblower law. He regrets, Green said, that the DHS is not changing its bureaucratic culture, despite a 13.7 million dollar penalty and four years of bad press. The following remarks have been excerpted from a longer interview.L.D. George Green: They’re dispirited and almost a shell of an agency out there. They’re now in damage-control, denying the truth about things that I know are fundamentally wrong. And I only saw a small sliver of it. I’ve had other testimony from other people talking about other segments of the DHS establishment and the culture out there is frightening. And I think that the present board has a responsibility to represent all the rest of us. To shake it up, fix it, and do the corrective actions to ensure that the children that are abused, the elderly that need care, the disadvantaged that are receiving benefits, get that with a minimal amount of hassle. The culture that is there is not going to promote that. I remember distinctly Lieutenant Governor Bullock saying at the time of the LBB meeting that he didn’t know. Here is the most powerful administrative officer in Texas, he did not know if the complaints I had made to Chairman Vowell were accurate or if they were ever investigated. Now if Bob Bullock doesn’t know, who in the hell in Texas does know what’s going on in that agency. To me there is a lack of oversight. There is a lack of audits, there is a lack of community or a lack of citizen involvement in a massive agency that touches all of our lives sooner or later. Observer: And the thirteen-million-dollar verdict and paymentfor that price to the taxpayers, somebody ought to know? Oh, absolutely. It is a gross injustice. It is an affront to all of us if the complaints that I made, the observations that I know to be true, are not aired and reviewed and used as a milepost for corrective action. After a 13.7-million-dollar payment, as a result of this experience, what is a level of accountability that any of us could .be comfortable with? I mean, I just find it outrageous that the DHS establishment said that the payment of this judgement and fine would come out of lapsed funds and it wouldn’t impact the benefit dollars of many Texans. Well, as Governor Bullock pointed out, thirteen million, if it came out of their budget, it’s certainly not going for administrative overhead, client services, office rehabilitation, staff raises, staff trainingall the things it could have gone to. But it went to me as a result of a jury’s verdict and a court’s opinion, because the establishment that is still in place has denied that there was such a thing as the George Green event. And that denial does a disservice to all of us, and that is frightening to me. Did you actually think you had prevailed when you won your jury decision? Yes. It was a great feeling to have been vindicated by a group of people who represented a remarkable cross-section of the society that we live in. They listened intently to nine weeks of trial, five weeks of testimony. They were overwhelmed with information. Because we had at least a hundred file boxes of information and the state had a similar set of documents. So it was an effort of in one case telling the truth and in another trying to spin the truth off of the screen. I think that jury saw that. The jury 10 DECEMBER 8, 1995