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Truth trumped

IN THE past two weeks, two bearers of bad news in the Bush administration have suffered professionally for daring to go public with information the administration did not want to hear. Their mistreatment is a strong argument for Congress to intervene on behalf of transparency in government.

The first Cassandra was the director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Justice Department. Lawrence Greenfeld, a Bush appointee, lost that post after trying to publish a news release on a study the bureau conducted on racial profiling by police. The study showed that, while black, white, and Hispanic motorists were equally likely to be stopped by police, blacks and Hispanics were much more likely than whites to be searched, arrested, ticketed, or have force used or threatened against them.

Greenfeld's boss first tried to get him to publish a press release that omitted the finding of racial disparity. When he refused, no release was made and the study was published amid the flood of government documents, drawing little attention from the news media.

The second whistle-blower was a senior Army civilian official who had the audacity in June to tell Congress that the Army Corps of Engineers should not have awarded a no-bid contract for oil field repair work in Iraq to a subsidiary of Halliburton, which Dick Cheney led before becoming vice president. Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Army Corps's top procurement officer since 1997, had been criticizing the no-bid contract since 2003.

Greenhouse also found fault with a waiver that Halliburton had gotten for the high cost of fuel it was supplying to Iraq and with a no-bid extension of its contract for logistical support in the Balkans. After telling Congress the oil contract ''was the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career," she was reassigned to a lesser job in the Army Corps, allegedly for poor job performance. According to her lawyer, the Army formerly gave Greenhouse outstanding performance ratings, but they became negative after she began criticizing contracts awarded to the Halliburton subsidiary.

Two Democratic senators, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and a Democratic representative, Henry Waxman of California, have asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to investigate the Greenhouse case. Congress should also require from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a full accounting of Greenfeld's sacking. Leaders of the executive department will go on punishing the tellers of unwelcome truths until they learn that the penalty for doing so is an unwelcome demand from Congress that they explain why they cannot tolerate hearing about the emperor's clothes.

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