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February 11 2016

Visa Wonderland?

Patrice J. Lee

It’s February, and in Washington whistleblowers get no love. Instead of flowers and candy, one Department of Homeland Security whistleblower got the boot because she brought alleged episodes of fraud, abuse, and unsavory ties to organized crime among high-ranking politicians to the attention of Congress.

In 2013, Special Agent Taylor Johnson reportedly uncovered unsavory things with the visa program for foreign investors known as EB-5. She reportedly discovered that some applicants from Russia, Pakistan, China, and Malaysia were getting approved in as few as 16 days, despite missing basic and required law enforcement queries. In essence, someone seemed to be turning a blind eye to these applications and nudging them along quickly.

While testifying before Congress, Johnson reportedly held up visas of a foreign investor in a Las Vegas casino who was represented by Senate Minority leader Harry Reid’s son. Subsequently, Johnson was placed on administrative leave without explanation. She lost her gun and her d “storied career” at DHS was done.

Although the agency doesn’t speak about specific personnel issues, an ICE press official was quick to disparage Johnson by providing confidential information to reporters about her.

The DHS Inspector General, the agency’s watchdog, cleared Johnson in a subsequent report, but there’s been no public acknowledgement. Instead, it has been reported that DHS offered Johnson a $100,000 severance package that came with a non-disclosure agreement. Johnson did not accept and remains on the agency’s target list, as The Daily Caller reports:

Gee, what a great use of taxpayer money that would have been. Pay a woman not to talk about what already got nationwide coverage when she talked about it before Congress.

DHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Todd Breasseale did not respond to multiple inquiries about the reason for Johnson’s dismissal and why they tried to buy her silence.

DHS has never given any public explanation for the disciplinary action it took against Johnson. After the hearing a DHS spokeswoman said they do not talk about personnel matters.

 But this past December, ICE press secretary Gillian Christensen, citing confidential information from Johnson’s file, tried to convince this reporter off the record that she was a dishonest and a problem employee.

That argument is going to be even harder to peddle now that the Department would have allowed Johnson to leave with a clean work record and $100,000 in spending money if she promised to keep her mouth shut.

Johnson is soliciting online donations to cover legal fees for a possible federal lawsuit. She told the Daily Caller separately:

… despite financial pressures she was “not going to take a settlement if it means not correcting a seriously broken system. One that endangers America and more importantly my kids. I’ve always told my kids doing the right thing isn’t always going to be the easiest thing. As a mom and a federal agent, how can I say that and not be willing to back it up.”

“I’ll now have to exhaust every cent in my retirement until I can get in front of the [Merit System Protection Board to argue for reversing the termination]. I just finalized my third adoption so it’s terrifying to think of being without a job. Did anyone in ICE consider the consequences to my kids? I’ll be in the unemployment line for the first time in my entire life?” she continued. “Seems I made a lot of enemies in DC after I testified.”

How many other whistleblowers took the package and ran though?

There’s a noxious culture that pervades many federal agencies that goes beyond just fraud, misconduct, and abuse. To cover up for wrongdoing, leaders will use their authority to retaliate against whistleblowers, which also sends a message to other workers that if they come forward they can expect the same treatment.

Federal agents are stewards of the public trust and work for the American people. This kind of behavior must not be tolerated. Perhaps changing the incentives from rewarding wrongdoing to rewarding those who come forward about wrongdoing would be a start.

Whatever the solutions, something needs to be done, but we fear in Washington, nothing ever changes.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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