A bruised and battered veteran of the U.S. Civil Service explained how the government silences whistleblowers and other uncooperative employees: “They give you a big promotion, a fancy title and a new office, but no staff and nothing to do. Then they tell you to watch the flagpole in front of headquarters and, if that flag moves, you come tell us immediately. After that, you’re never heard from again.”
Whistleblowers in the Washington bureaucracy come in all ideological stripes, but the one thing they almost invariably have in common is being subjected to this treatment. Some stick to their guns and alert the public to a problem in government, but most are bored into submission.
Kenneth Melson, the now-former acting director of the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency at the center of the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, appears to be getting the treatment now. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that Melson has a new job as a “senior adviser” in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy. According to Holder, “Ken brings decades of experience at the department and extensive knowledge in forensic science to his new role, and I know he will be a valuable contributor on these issues. As he moves into this new role, I want to thank Ken for his dedication to the department over the last three decades.”
Sounds just hunky-dory, doesn’t it? Don’t be surprised if in a few weeks a lonely Melson is gazing out of an obscure Justice Department office, staring at a flag pole, waiting for something to do. Or maybe not. There is an alternative explanation for Melson’s promotion.
His testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, was crucial in shining light on a misguided ATF program that allowed thousands of lethal firearms to be sold to suppliers for Mexican drug cartels. The idea was the weapons would show up in Mexican crime scenes and thereby link high-ranking cartel figures to the ghastly murders that have become such a familiar part of the story south of the border.
Instead, some of the weapons — most cannot be accounted for by ATF — have shown up at crime scenes here in the U.S., including a desolate spot in the Arizona desert where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was gunned down last December.
Officials from the top to the bottom of the Justice Department ran for the exits at that point, but Issa still managed to expose the basic facts about the gun-running fiasco.
Much of what Issa learned, however, came from sources other than Melson. And while Melson insisted that senior Justice Department officials knew and approved of Fast and Furious, nobody above him has been fired or otherwise disciplined as a result. Perhaps Melson’s new job — which pays well and is out of the spotlight — is intended simply to give him something else to talk about.