Government Whistleblowers

The New York Times headline inspired retired Environmental Protection Agency staffer William Sanjour to write to the editor.

The headline read: “Whistle-Blower Did the Unexpected: She Returned to Work”

Why are you surprised that a whistle-blower went back to work?” he wrote in a letter posted Wednesday. “I was a whistle-blower at the Environmental Protection Agency and went back to work for 20 years and continued to blow the whistle, as did several of my whistle-blowing colleagues. That’s the law.”

The law he refers to is the Whistleblower Protection Act and Sanjour relied on it as a long-time critic of his own agency.

The Times story he refers to was about Tricia Newbold, a White House security office staffer. This weekend, she told Congressional investigators that senior White House officials overruled security staff and granted clearances to 25 employees.    
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Congress is once again calling on whistleblowers for help investigating a federal agency, this time the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Boeing 737 Max airplane tails
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Citing safety issues emerging after two crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX airplane, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Friday put out a call for FAA whistleblowers. They were directed to a new whistleblower webpage set up to collect information.

The move marks the second time in about a month that a member of Congress has called on whistleblowers to come forward. In February, Rep. Maxine Waters  issued an open letter to potential whistleblowers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The California Democrat asked agency employees who witness waste, fraud, abuse to contact her office.

Anyone thinking about becoming a whistleblower should speak to a whistleblower attorney first, said John Kostyack, director of the National Whistleblower Center

“Given the complex set of laws and procedures governing whistleblowing, and given the risk of retaliation for speaking out, whistleblowers should get assistance with protecting confidentiality and anonymity and potentially receiving financial rewards for assisting law enforcement with addressing wrongdoing and recovering civil and criminal penalties,” Kostyack said.


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The Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD IG) should coordinate with the military services to do a better job of protecting whistleblower confidentiality and addressing delays in handling cases, according to a new report.

The Government Accountability Office report found the IG offices have made progress since past reviews, but needs to do more to protect confidentiality. The review found that employees without “the need to know” have had access to sensitive whistleblower information.

While the timeliness of handling cases has improved in some areas, delays persist in others, according to the report.  For example, the average number of days to complete military and contractor reprisal investigations increased between 2017 and 2018 from 394 days to 541 days.

The DOD IG completed closed 73 investigations in 2018, including 13 senior official misconduct cases and 60 military, contractor, and civilian reprisal cases. However, about 85 percent of all investigations “did not meet the timeliness goals.”


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For International Women’s Day, a few whistleblowers.

From the NWC:

Dr. Tommie (“Toni”) G. Savage

Savage had a distinguished 20 year career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’, until she blew the whistle on the  fraud she discovered.

Jane Turner

Turner successful fought her removal and won a historic victory for all FBI whistleblowers before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.  She challenged her retaliation in federal court, and won a unanimous jury verdict in her favor, obtaining the largest compensatory damage award permitted under the law for federal employees.  Jane also exposed criminal theft of property at the 9/11 crime scene by a handful of FBI agents.  She was harshly retaliated against for reporting these violations to the DOJ Inspector General.  After a ten-year battle, she prevailed, becoming only one of a small handful of FBI agents to win her cases under the FBI whistleblower Protection Act.


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All three position on the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) are now empty with the expiration of the only member’s appointment. In February, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved two of President Trump’s MSPB nominees, but the full Senate has not considered them yet.

A letter from groups representing federal workers, as well as whistleblower and taxpayer advocates, raised concerns about the future of the board.

The MSPB is a three-person board which hears appeals of lower level personnel decisions. The Board hears whistleblower cases and is the backstop for maintaining a non-partisan, professional civil service as the sole enforcement body on many cases. It has not had a quorum since just before President Trump took office. The MSPB needs a quorum of two to act. The term of the single sitting member, Mark A. Robbins, ended on February 28.

A Washington Post column about unfilled political position mentions the MSPB.

The MSPB has a vital mission, namely, to oversee federal hiring, employee management and firing, as well as to provide protection against whistleblower retaliation in government. Perhaps the most invisible force at work at the MSPB is upholding the constitutional legal principles of due process and checks and balances that apply across all three branches of government. That makes the work of the MSPB crucial to making democracy work across the U.S. government. Davidson. 
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The False Claims Act (FCA) has long served as a powerful weapon against fraud and waste in government programs, from rancid Civil War rations to Medicare scams. The Department of Justice (DOJ) recovered $2.88 billion under the law last year, with whistleblowers involved in the majority of cases.

March 2 marks the  anniversary of the law, which was signed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. After the Civil War, the FCA continued to identify military contractors guilty of mismanagement and fraud. With rising health costs, much of it covered by Medicare, most cases now involve medical providers and suppliers. The DOJ’s December report noted that $2.5 of the $2.8 billion in recovery involved the health care industry.The first line of a story in the trade publication Modern Healthcare reports “Healthcare industry groups have always hated False Claims Act whistleblower lawsuits.”


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Rep. Maxine Waters  issued an open letter to potential whistleblowers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) late last week.  The California Democrat’s letter was addressed to agency employees who witness waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement. It asks that they “please do not hesitate to alert me and my staff” if they witness any such bureaucratic misconduct. Her action was in response to reports of low morale at the agency.

CFPB logoIn a Monday Washington Post column about Waters’ letter, Stephen M. Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, agreed —  with a caveat: “Whistleblowers are protected by federal law . . . Given the problems with federal whistleblower protection, we recommend that any whistleblower approaching Congress ensure that they can maintain anonymity.” He’s also noted that system does not offer federal employees rewards, and access to federal court jury trials is limited. In addition, the WPA does not apply to intelligence and national security agencies. 
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When does the statute of limitations clock start running in a False Claims Act (FCA) case when the government declines to intervene in a whistleblower case?  That is the question the Supreme Court will consider when it takes up Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. United States.

The National Whistleblower Center filed an amicus curiae brief in the case this week.

At issue: Must an FCA plaintiff rely on the statute of limitations in a suit in which the United States declines to intervene?  If so, does the three-year limitations period begins to run from the date of the whistleblower’s knowledge of the alleged false claim, or from the date of the government official’s knowledge of the alleged false claim?

The brief, written by NWC executive director Stephen M. Kohn, notes that his organization takes the position that the “merits of a claim often bear no relation to the duration of a case.”
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A man once called “America’s most famous whistleblower” has died at the age of 92. In 1968, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a top financial manager for the Air Force, revealed a $2.3 billion cost overrun in the Air Forces’ Lockheed C-5 aircraft program. He did it before Congress and in defiance of his superiors.

From The Washington Post 

Under oath, he said the C-5A was $2 billion over budget. In testifying, Mr. Fitzgerald later said, he was merely “committing truth.” The revelation about the vast cost overruns made national headlines, stunning members of Congress as well as Mr. Fitzgerald’s superiors.

In 1996, he received the Paul H. Douglas Award,  given each year to a “government official … whose public actions or writings have made a significant contribution to the practice and understanding of ethical behavior in government.”

A biography posted on the award program website described the retribution against Fitzgerald.


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Problems with forensics at the FBI crime lab continue, 25 years after a whistleblower flagged the agency for sloppy science, according to a story from independent news source ProPublica.

The story reports on the lack of scientific evidence supporting the work of FBI technicians who specialize in facial identification and “visual evidence.”  The unit analyzes and sharpens crime scene photos and videos. From the story:

The FBI’s endorsement of the unit’s findings as trial evidence troubles many experts and raises a new question about the role of the FBI Laboratory as a standard-setter in forensic science.”  

Add that to the questions that have lingered since crime lab problems were revealed by insider Frederic Whitehurst in 1994. The chemist’s information about faulty evidence and worse have emerged via three inspector general reports and a National Academy of Sciences study. The ProPublica piece is the latest in two decades of investigative news stories about faulty FBI forensics and its consequences.

Whitehurst is now the director of the National Whistleblower Center’s Forensic Justice Project.


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