Monday, May 14, 2007

Leaks, Shoots and Leaves

You’ve gotta feel sorry for Jeff Monaghan. He’s the young federal public servant who allegedly leaked the Tories’ Green Plan and was arrested at his Environment Canada workplace and led away in handcuffs.

I think the problem is that Mr. Monaghan simply lacked sufficient government experience to know how to comport himself in such a situation. His statement at his recent press conference that he has faith in the judicial system is evidence of that and an obvious cry for help.

As a 25-year veteran of the federal bureaucracy, I think I can provide that help. For example, experience has taught me that it is indeed illegal to leak confidential government documents to outsiders no matter how much you may disagree with the contents.

Your job, Jeff, is to shut up and do what you’re told. You are not paid to make moral judgments on government policy, however wrongheaded, dangerous and duplicitous it may be.

We, as public servants, are not trained in the ways of policy. The sophisticated ins and outs of such ventures must be left to those possessing the skill-sets needed to present them to the public with the proper context and spin.

I can’t stress enough, Jeff, that you should not leak classified government information. That means that you should not fax such information to others, at least not without using gloves. It also means that you should never mail such documents outside the government in anything other than a plain, unmarked envelope. And if you’re going to talk to someone about it, for God’s sake don’t use your own phone.

You see, Jeff, if no one can trace how the documents made their way outside the government, there is effectively no leak and ‘ipso facto’ no leaker. Just remember that old bureaucratic adage: "If a document falls outside the bureaucratic forest and no one makes a sound, is there really a leak?"

But more importantly, Jeff, it’s really silly of any public servant to take it upon himself to rectify government moral turpitude. It’s a mug’s game. Even if you are successful in exposing wrongdoing or corruption, no one will thank you and your life will become a living hell. Just ask any recent whistleblower.

Ironically, your job as a public servant is not to serve the public but to protect yourself. If the government of the day wants to engage in shady dealings, let them. That’s their right. After all, Canadians elected them and presumably they’re just carrying out the electorate’s wishes.

Your job is to identify any such dicey situations and make sure you aren’t directly involved. Write as many internal memos, letters and e-mails as you need to ensure that when the whole mess blows up, your rear end is covered six layers deep in exculpatory communications.

You see, Jeff, there was no need for you to stick out your neck and risk your career, such as it was. For in the end, governments always do themselves in. Don’t try to stop them; you’re just forestalling the inevitable. In fact, you may even be helping to delay their own self-destruction by deflecting public attention away from the real problem.

I sure hope you can get yourself out of this mess, Jeff, and resume your career in the public service. And if you do, just remember the bureaucrat’s motto: Keep your head down, your profile low and your butt fully covered.

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