Whistleblower takes his case to YouTube

Jeff Tyler Aug 29, 2006

SCOTT JAGOW: Here’s a workplace riddle for you: Say you work for a defense company that has a Coast Guard contract. You discover serious safety flaws with your product. You bring it up to the company and the Coast Guard, but they do nothing. Years pass. You go to Congress and the government. And they do nothing. So now, where do you turn? How about a Web site where people share their homemade videos?As Jeff Tyler reports, that’s what one guy did.

JEFF TYLER: Lockheed Martin is one of the lead contractors on a $24 billion project to modernize the Coast Guard fleet. One of the lead workers on the so-called “Deepwater” program was Michael De Kort. He discovered design flaws that leave the boats vulnerable to attack.

With the project already late and over budget, De Kort says his managers at Lockheed turned a blind eye.

MICHAEL DE KORT:“At that point, I just think they saw their careers flashing before their eyes. And the things we had done were so bad that they weren’t going to come clean.”

Lockheed Martin says it takes the allegations seriously. But the company says an internal investigation found no merit to De Kort’s claims. Mary Elder, spokeswoman for the Deepwater project, says the Coast Guard also investigated the issues.

MARY ELDER:“There was nothing further for them to take any action on. They believed it was a contracting issue between the Coast Guard and the contractor who’s working on the program.”

But De Kort says the Coast Guard has not fixed the problems and still has unsafe boats in the water.

DE KORT:“Lockheed’s position is that they disclosed everything to the Coast Guard, and the Coast Guard accepted it. That’s true. The Coast Guard should never have accepted these boats. But I think we should expect a little more from the world’s largest defense contractor than pinning somebody into a corner when they have schedule and cost problems and expecting them to make the tough decision.”

Few others want to make the tough decisions either. Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, says whistleblowers find it increasingly hard to find an audience.

DANIELLE BRIAN:“Even 10 years ago, you would see the Congress really embracing hearing whistleblowers who were coming to them with information. You just don’t have that kind of access, or interest on the part of the Congress anymore.”

De Kort says his efforts to raise awareness about the problems internally were not warmly received.

DE KORT:“I faced retaliation. You know, the way it works is, they don’t fire you. I mean, they make you want to leave.”

When he went public with his video on YouTube, De Kort lost his job. Danielle Brian says De Kort’s future career prospects aren’t great.

BRIAN:“My experience is that he will not be able to get another job in the industry or in government.”

Now unemployed, De Kort is looking for a lawyer.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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