whistleblowers and Congress

By Maya Efrati

After nearly a year of research and review, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has released a report outlining best practices for how Congressional staff should appropriately handle information from whistleblowers. Titled “Key Practices for Congress to Consider When Receiving and Referring Information,” the report focuses on what happens when federal whistleblowers reach out to their representatives in Congress, whether in the House or Senate, for help. The GAO produced the report on the request of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

One of the ways that Congress is able to fulfill its mandate for oversight of the federal government is through receiving and acting on whistleblower information. The GAO report notes that, “[w]hile data is not available on the number of whistleblower disclosures across Congress, a staff member at one congressional office said the office can receive hundreds of whistleblower disclosures every year.” Yet too often, those whistleblowers are retaliated against for bravely speaking up about waste, fraud, and abuse. Compounding the problem, the GAO report demonstrated some existing deficiencies in the process for whistleblowers to disclose their information.

Maya Efrati head shot
Maya Efrati

Crucially, the GAO noted the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of whistleblowers who come forward with information to Congress. Key practices highlighted in the report include that Congress should “Develop… [p]rotocols to keep disclosures secure and protected, while appropriately limiting access to information on a need-to-know basis.”

This includes not only handling of sensitive or classified information provided by the whistleblower, but also  the whistleblower’s own personally identifiable information, which is any details that could allow someone to trace that person’s identity. Whistleblowers often risk their careers and more when speaking up about what they know; no whistleblower should be placed in an even more precarious situation because Congress lacks appropriate processes and guidelines to help them.


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More whistleblowing in the halls of Congress and other news of the week. 

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee,  issued a statement this week in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

“We honor the contributions of the brave men and women who report wrongdoing despite great risks to their careers and personal lives as a result of retaliation.  Without the WPA, very few whistleblowers would be willing to come forward.  Congress relies on the WPA to fulfill its Constitutional duty to provide checks and balances on the Executive Branch—the very root of our democracy.”

He noted the role of whistleblowers in the Committee’s investigation into reports of White House efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

The Atlantic reported last week that “small army of whistle-blowers from across the government has been working in secret with the House Oversight Committee to report alleged malfeasance inside the Trump administration. Lawmakers and aides are reluctant to discuss information they have gleaned from anonymous government tipsters in detail. But the list of whistle-blowers who either currently or previously worked in the Trump administration, or who worked closely with the administration, numbers in the ‘dozens’,” according to an aide to Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.

NPR also reported on the anniversary of the WPA.

ROBERT MACLEAN: Everybody in my neighborhood and my family thought I was insane and I was fighting a futile fight.

…That’s how it felt for Robert MacLean, a federal air marshal who, in 2003, told the public that the TSA canceled air marshal coverage on long-haul flights to cover budget shortfalls.


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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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