Joe the Plumber Data Dive Whistleblower Was Threatened with Firing; Media Will Likely Ignore

December 5th, 2008 10:39 AM

ObamaAndJoeThePlumber1008.jpgThe Columbus Dispatch has done some impressive work exposing the unauthorized and arguably illegal database diving done by State of Ohio employees into the records of Joe the Plumber in October. The rest of Ohio's and the nation's media have been virtually asleep.

In a previous post (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted that Vanessa Niekamp, the state employee who blew the lid off the underhanded undertaking, was virtually unknown, while many other past government whistleblowers have been treated as media heroes.

A story in the Dispatch this morning that should be read in full (HT Michelle Malkin) about Ms. Niekamp's testimony before the Ohio House's Government and Elections Committee reveals just how imperiled she was.

While carrying out a personal order from a superior who was trying to cover his tracks, she was reminded that she was an "unclassified" employee. In plain English, she was threatened with her job if she didn't do what she was told (bolds are mine):

The state worker who unwittingly ran an improper child-support check on the man known as Joe the Plumber told lawmakers yesterday that a deputy director later "dictated" how she was supposed to cover it up.

Here's the "unwitting" part:

..... the day after Republican presidential nominee John McCain talked about Wurzelbacher in his final presidential debate Oct. 15 with Democrat Barack Obama ..... Assistant Deputy Director Carri Brown asked her (Niekamp) to check the state child-support computer system for Wurzelbacher.

Brown "claimed that he had contacted our agency with a dispute about how much child support he owed," Niekamp said.

Niekamp, who did not recognize the name, said Brown took some notes, thanked her and left.

Here's the cover-up attempt:

A week later, (Department of Job and Family Services Deputy Director Doug) Thompson came to her office with a different explanation -- that he, Jones-Kelley and assistant director Fred Williams had requested the check.

"Doug told me that the person Carri had asked me to look up was Joe the Plumber -- the one who was talked about in the national news. He said he needed my help explaining something," Niekamp said.

"Doug then told me I must write an e-mail to our agency's information-security officer to explain why the file had been accessed. He turned my computer screen so he could see it and dictated word for word what he wanted me to write. ...

"He then told me that we needed to make sure that we answer questions about what happened the same way, so that our versions were not different from each other. Before he said that, he reminded me that I was an unclassified employee -- which, as you may know, is someone who can be fired without cause."

Fortunately for people who believe in government accountability, Niekamp immediately went to the Ohio Office of the Inspector General.

Finally, here's the smoking gun that obliterates any justification for the ludicrously lenient "punishments" state employees involved received (mostly one-month suspensions without pay):

Niekamp said she knew the checks were improper because the staff undergoes training and must read and sign a form explaining when they can access confidential and personal information maintained by the department.

In other words, agency officials involved knew that what they were doing was strictly against policy, if not illegal.

The one-month suspensions handed down by Ted Strickland are in-your-face insults to the citizens of Ohio. These people have no business being State of Ohio employees ever again, in any capacity. If they return, we will know beyond doubt that Ohio's government -- from the very top down -- only cares about our privacy as long as we don't get in their way.

Given that this news involves a person who became a national figure in a presidential race in key swing state, you would think that all of this will be reported prominently in the rest of the country. You might think that the media would be asking the President-elect what he thinks of the subterfuge that was done on his behalf. Wanna bet?

As for Ms. Niekamp, what I wrote two weeks ago still holds: "I hope (her) legal representation is strong, as it’s reasonable to anticipate that her whistleblowing will not go unpunished."

Cross-posted at