Government Whistleblowers

The Washington Post reports that Congressional staffers worked through the holiday to complete a report on the House Intelligence Committee’s  Ukraine investigation. It is expected to go to the Judiciary Committee Tuesday. That committee will meet Wednesday review the report and its own findings as it considers articles of impeachment. Those will go to the House floor.

Much has been said about that whistleblower and whistleblowing in general over the past two months. Here’s a roundup of some of our posts.

9/24 Will whistleblower battle lead to a crisis of confidence in the intelligence community?

Whistleblowers from the intelligence community face a different set of rules than other government insiders.


Continue Reading

The Inspector General (IG) of the Intelligence Community, Michael K. Atkinson, calls IGs “first responders.”  In his semi-annual report to Congress, he writes:

As so-called first responders, Inspectors General must act swiftly and appropriately when – through audits, investigations, inspections, or reviews – possible wrongdoing is revealed. They must identify, stop, or correct the problem, and in the process,  they may need to alert those who can assist in the response, whether it be Congress, law enforcement authorities, or others.

He goes on to write that, like all ‘first responders, his team is dependent “upon those who first raise an alarm.” Often, whistleblowers are the first people to note waste or possible wrongdoing.


Continue Reading

As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign this year, the National Whistleblower Center is highlighting the stories of several whistleblowers who spoke at the 2019 National Whistleblower Day celebration.

Sheila White is an employment discrimination whistleblower who took her case against railway giant Burlington Northern & Santa Fe all the way to the Supreme Court.

In June of 1997, she was the only woman working in the Maintenance of Way Department at BNSF’s Tennessee Yard. While she was hired originally as a “track laborer”, her duties soon expanded to operating the forklift.

In September that year, White complained to BNSF officials that her immediate supervisor had made repeated derogatory and inappropriate remarks to her in front of colleagues and suggested that women should not be working in the department.

While her boss was suspended and ordered to attend sexual harassment training, White was removed from forklift duty. She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming the reassignment of duties constituted gender-based discrimination and retaliation.
Continue Reading

This weekend, the Secretary of the Navy gave up his job after a dispute with President Donald Trump over plans to penalize a Navy SEAL charged with war crimes.

New York Times reporter Dave Philipps, who wrote about the case in April, noted “The biggest story in a war crimes case isn’t always the crime itself. Sometimes what the crime reveals about the culture and inner workings of a military unit is the real headline.”

That was what he thought when he learned that Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, the head of a Navy SEAL platoon, was charged with murdering civilians in Iraq. War crimes are easy to cover up, he wrote in a Times Insider column, where reporters share how they got the story.

So why had a popular chief who was almost eligible for retirement been turned in by several men in his own platoon for stabbing a captive teenager to death and gunning down civilians, including a young girl, with a sniper rifle?”

Philipps made a lot of calls but no one in the platoon would talk to him. Then, someone gave him more than 400 pages of confidential documents from the Navy’s criminal investigation. The headline on this story: Navy SEALS Were Warned Against Reporting Their Chief For War Crimes. 


Continue Reading

The Christian Science Monitor offers an editorial that comes close to calling it the year of the whistleblower.

Congress has yet to determine the guilt or innocence of President Donald Trump over his alleged wrong behavior with Ukraine. Yet one thing is sure: The world has witnessed the powerful impact of a whistleblower calling out his or her boss.

They also offer a nice roundup of what is happening worldwide.

In October, the European Parliament approved a directive to protect from retaliation employees who report crime, corruption, and public health dangers from retaliation. Countries in the European Union have two years to implement the law. The mood in Europe shifted after a French accountant, Antoine Deltour, exposed widespread tax evasion by multinational businesses operating through shell companies in Luxembourg. Despite attempts to punish him for his actions, he endured. “The worst thing for a whistleblower,” Mr. Deltour said, “is not to be heard. The world then makes no sense.”

In February, Australia passed a new standard for whistleblower protection. Also this year, Lebanon and Tunisia became the first Middle East countries to pass such laws. And in June, the Group of 20, made up of leading rich and developing nations, further cemented a global norm by endorsing a set of principles for “effective” protection of whistleblowers. 

 FT: Whistleblowers fare poorly at accounting firms

The Financial Times spoke to 20 former employees of major accounting firms for a November 20 story on how the companies treat whistleblowers. Former staff from EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PwC said they were subject to “harassment, bullying and discrimination.” (Note: FT has a paywall.)


Continue Reading

 John Kostyack is the executive director of the  National Whistleblower Center

A national conversation is underway about whether the President’s actions on the Ukraine matter warrant impeachment – a question on which the National Whistleblower Center does not take a position. However, an equally robust conversation needs to happen on a related question: how to respond to the President’s hostile actions toward the Ukraine whistleblowers.

Our view is that the President’s actions are very likely violating laws prohibiting intimidation of witnesses and reprisals against whistleblowers. Moreover, he is failing to uphold his duty to enforce the anti-reprisal law. Regardless of how Congress proceeds on the impeachment inquiry, it must forcefully assert itself here. Congress needs whistleblowers to perform its constitutional oversight role and otherwise ensure implementation of the laws it passes. To defend its role in our system of checks and balances, Congress must insist that the President reverse course.

Continue Reading

I was punished for telling the truth. You hear that a lot from whistleblowers. Not what they expected for doing the right thing. Some organizations see whistleblowers as disloyal. So, when they fire, harass, demote, dox, or professionally blacklist a worker, supervisors see it as punishment, not retaliation.

So, anonymity is key. The laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation are strengthened by provisions for anonymity. What do they need to be protected from? Anyone who has ever gotten on the wrong side of a toxic boss or an unfair co-worker has had a taste of it.

Protection tips

The National Whistleblower Center offers a list of whistleblower protection practices to avoid retaliation. The NWC site shares the story of Jane Turner, a 25-year veteran special agent with the FBI who is also the chairwoman of the NWC’s Whistleblower Leadership Council. She led the FBI’s  programs for women and children on North Dakota Indian reservations and reported problems with the program. Turner said the aftermath was the destruction of her career and finances and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Here’s how they describe her case:
Continue Reading

11/6 update: Chris Cillizza at CNN comments on Rand Paul’s strategy at a Monday Trump rally,

“What Trump and Paul are trying to do is put the whistleblower at the end of this process. Unless the whistleblower reveals him or herself, how we can trust that anything he or she says is right? We have to know who this person is to judge whether they are some bitter Democrats or loser Never Trumper!

That’s not what a whistleblower is or what they do. Whistleblowers are the start of a process, not the end of it. And they are rarely the centerpiece of the process.”
He gets NWC director John Kostyack to explain how it works.

11/4: The Ukraine scandal whistleblower’s work is done, but the president and his supporters continue to call for him or her to come forward. They say his bias must be exposed. Democrats say he is no longer a key witness; others have confirmed the facts in the whistleblower complaint. Anonymity will protect him or her from certain harassment and retaliation.

Still, some lawmakers and conservative media sites are naming a CIA officer they say is likely the whistleblower. On Wednesday, the conservative news site Real Clear Politics reported that the whistleblower is CIA analyst who worked at the White House – something the New York Times reported to some outcry. Real Clear Politics puts a name to it and offers this confirmation: the name of “a government official fitting that description… has been raised privately in impeachment depositions, according to officials with direct knowledge of the proceedings, as well as in at least one open hearing held by a House committee not involved in the impeachment inquiry.“

The whistleblower’s lawyers won’t confirm or deny. They have offered to have the whistleblower answer written questions from GOP lawmakers under oath.  Most major press outlets are not reporting the name.
Continue Reading

Federal employees who face retaliation for blowing the whistle have an option for redress: the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

The only problem is — there’s currently no one on the board and their hasn’t been a quorum since 2016. It has a backlog of more than 2,000 cases and a record of siding with the boss.

The MSPB, whose three board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, reviews the whistleblower cases of federal employees and makes the final determination. Somebody has to have the back of the federal employees who have been marching into the Capitol to testify each day.  A piece in Mother Jones talks about how recent concerns over whistleblower protection have highlighted the role of the board — and the problem of not having one.

When it’s working, the MSPB protects whistleblowers who reveal wrongdoings in the management of most federal agencies, covering more than 2 million civilian federal employees. The board was created in 1979 to address retaliation against whistleblowers. When whistleblowers were demoted, stripped of responsibilities, or fired, they were able to turn to the three-member board of the MSPB for intervention. Recent members of the board have been labor lawyers with experience in government.
Continue Reading

Dan Zak in The Washington Post muses on the role of whistleblowers:

The whistleblower has gotten into the president’s head. In a Cabinet meeting Monday, Trump referenced whistleblowers 15 times. “You know, these whistleblowers, they have them like they’re angels, okay?” he said.

In a way, whistleblowers are like angels, looking after the well-being of government and corporations on behalf of the public — which may never be aware of their existence, let alone their names. They report waste, fraud and abuse on a daily basis, all across Washington and the private sector. Federal whistleblowers made over 3,300 disclosures in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Members of the intelligence community made 563 outreaches to their own whistleblowing hotline in fiscal year 2018, and are on pace to exceed that number this year.

The piece includes a quote from NWC chair Stephen M. Kohn: “You can’t have a government based on rule of law unless citizens can freely report potential violations of the rule of law.” 


Continue Reading