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Editorial: Shooting the messenger

Despite lip service from public officials about the importance of government transparency, most bureaucracies remain reluctant to open their doors to public scrutiny, preferring to hunker down rather than risk embarrassment.

Take the U.S. Commerce Department, for instance.

An Associated Press report this week detailed the travails of Cristina Jackson, an administrative director at a department office in Seattle. As part of her duties, Ms. Jackson oversaw attendance records for employees. One of those workers was Darryl Lee Wright.

According to the wire service, Mr. Wright missed a lot of work, which he blamed on post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of service in Iraq. When Mr. Wright in 2009 sought to convert missed work into paid leave for “emergency” National Guard duty, Ms. Jackson made a few inquiries.

The Washington National Guard eventually determined that Mr. Wright “purposely falsified” papers “to defraud his civilian employer,” the AP found.

Taxpayers might be heartened to know that Ms. Jackson took her job seriously enough to pursue the matter, ensuring that a goldbricking bureaucrat was held to account for his efforts to swindle the citizens who pay his salary. But that’s not the end of the story.

Rather than laud Ms. Jackson’s diligence, the AP reports, her superiors attacked her for violating Mr. Wright’s privacy. Documents obtained by the wire service show higher-ups at the Commerce Department recommended suspending Ms. Jackson for at least a month. They also tried to revise downward her annual performance rating.

In the meantime, the department scrambled to make the matter go away by reaching two separate settlements with Mr. Wright, allowing him to convert six weeks of missed work to paid sick leave and even covering the legal fees he incurred during the dispute.

When Ms. Jackson — whose bank account remains $20,000 lighter thanks to her effort to fight disciplinary action — heard about the deal, she contacted the department’s inspector general. In 2011, he concluded that Mr. Wright should be disciplined rather than placated “based on the gravity of his misconduct.”

In the end, Commerce Department officials failed in their attempt to cover up the fiasco. Thanks to the IG’s report, federal prosecutors got involved and Mr. Wright now awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to criminal charges.

The story drives home how federal bureaucrats too often worry about protecting their own cushy sinecures rather than looking out for the best interests of the taxpayers. Whistleblower Cristina Jackson deserved a promotion and raise, not the wrath of her superiors. Her bosses should be shown the door.

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