Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblowers

The United States Government, along with the governments of 15 states and the District of Columbia, have joined with two whistleblowers who allege that drug manufacturer Wyeth bilked US taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars. As reported in the Wall Street Journal and the FierceHealthcare website, Wyeth is accused of overcharging Medicare and Medicaid programs nationwide for purchases of it’s acid-reflux drug Protonix. Under federal law, drug companies are required to offer prescriptions to federal aid programs at the lowest possible price. Wyeth, however, the suit alleges, was offering Protonix at a 90% discount to private hospitals, while charging the federal government much higher rates.

 

The lawsuit was filed under the False Claims Act, which has its roots in the civil war era, and remains  the United States’ most powerful tool for rooting out fraudulent government contracts. President Obama’s administration has recently expressed its support for strengthening the law, and legislation to do so is currently pending in Congress.

Senator Barack Obama won the presidential election this week running as the candidate for change. The change he promised included bringing transparency and accountability back into the federal government.

During the past year, we have watched President-Elect Obama use his persuasive oratory to change the American political landscape. His oratory included strong public commitments to ensure effective government oversight and whistleblower protection. Workers desperately need a strong national whistleblower protection act. The recent authorization of 700 billion dollars to bail out Wall Street made the need to protect whistleblowers even more urgent.

As President-Elect Obama prepares to announce his appointees, he has the chance to make immediate meaningful change a reality. There are many presidential appointments that have a direct impact on workers who blow the whistle on fraud and corruption. Such positions include key appointees within the Department of Justice who oversee billions of dollars worth of contractor fraud cases.

There are also relatively unknown positions that have tremendous impact on the lives and careers of thousands of whistleblowers. For example, the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board decides federal environmental, consumer safety and Sarbanes-Oxley Act whistleblower cases. Likewise, the Special Counsel has responsibility for protecting federal employees who expose waste fraud and corruption within the federal bureaucracy.

Both the Administrative Review Board and the Office of Special Counsel lost credibility and failed in their missions because of poor appointments by the previous administration. For example, mismanagement by the Bush-appointed Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch was so appalling that the FBI raided his home and office. Even President Bush was forced to fire him two weeks before the election.

The Office of Special Counsel is supposed to protect the public trust by shielding whistleblowers. President-Elect Obama must ensure that an experienced and competent advocate for whistleblowers is appointed as Special Counsel. He must force the Office of Special Counsel to fulfill its mandate to protect whistleblowers.

President-Elect Obama has a unique opportunity to bring change in these crucial areas that will protect workers with the courage and integrity to tell the truth. That’s the change we believe in. That is the change we hope and expect President-Elect Obama will bring to the federal government.

To view President-Elect Obama’s survey responses please click here.