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A New Year for Whistleblowers? Emergency Action Needed to Make Current Whistleblower Laws Work
Wednesday, January 3, 2024

In 2021 the White House, in conjunction with every major executive agency, approved The United States Strategy on Countering Corruption. In this authoritative and non-partisan Anti-Corruption Strategy, the United States for the first time formally recognized the key role whistleblowers play in detecting fraud and corruption. Based on these findings it declared that it was the official policy of the United States to “stand in solidarity” with whistleblowers, both domestically and internationally. As part of the Anti-Corruption Strategy the United States recognized that whistleblower qui tam reward laws must play a major role in combating financial frauds, such as money laundering. The proven ability of whistleblowers to detect fraud among corporate and government elites led the United States government to formally identify them as key players in preventing fraud, strengthening democratic institutions, and combating corruption that threatens U.S. national security.

Despite these findings, leading federal agencies responsible for enforcing whistleblower rights have failed to implement the U.S. Anti-Corruption Strategy’s whistleblower-mandates. Many of their current rules and practices directly undercut and undermine the very whistleblower rights identified by the White House Strategy as playing an essential role in combating corruption.

The 118th Congress will end on January 3, 2025. Thus, there is one year remaining for Congress and the current-sitting executive officers to act on a number of pending whistleblower initiatives, all of which have strong bipartisan support, are based on the plain meaning of laws already passed by Congress, and which are individually or collectively essential for the implementation of the U.S. Anti-Corruption Strategy. Outside of political interference by those who stand to lose when whistleblowers are incentivized and protected, there is no legitimate reason why these reforms cannot be quickly approved. The actions listed below are needed for the Strategy to be implemented, but whose approval has been stalled or blocked by resistant executive agencies or a timid Congress:

A first step in changing the anti-whistleblower culture that undermines the public interest within most federal agencies is for the President to enforce the National Whistleblower Appreciation Day resolution that has been unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate over the past ten years. The resolution urges every executive agency to acknowledge the contributions of whistleblowers and educate their workforce as to these contributions. See https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/ten-years-running-grassley-wyden-lead-whistleblower-appreciation-day-resolution (S. Res. 298).

The importance of President Biden’s requiring all federal agencies to institute to Senate resolution is clear, based on the text of the resolution asking that all agencies “inform[] employees, contractors working on behalf of the taxpayers of the United States, and members of the public about the legal right of a United States citizen to ‘blow the whistle' to the appropriate authority by honest and good faith reporting of misconduct, fraud, misdemeanors, or other crimes; and acknowledging the contributions of whistleblowers to combating waste, fraud, abuse, and violations of laws and regulations of the United States.”

These seven reforms all have bipartisan support and/or can be immediately implemented through executive action. There is simply no justification for delaying the implementation of these minimum and absolutely necessary reforms. 

But the buck does not stop at the top. Strong and vocal public support can push all of these bipartisan reforms across the finish line. The American people – across all demographics, stand behind whistleblowers. How do we know this? The highly respected Marist polling agency conducted a scientifically valid survey of “likely American voters.” Their findings speak for themselves:

  • 86% of Americans want stronger whistleblower protections
  • 44% of “likely voters” state that the position of candidates on this issue would impact their vote.

Despite the divisions within American society the Marist Poll findings demonstrated that the American public is united in supporting whistleblowers:

  • 84% of people without a college education want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 89% of people with a college education want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 85% of people earning under $50,000 want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 89% of people earning over $50,000 want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 86% of people living in urban areas want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 83% of people living in rural areas want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 86% of women want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 87% of men want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 88 % of Independents want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 78 % of Republicans want stronger protection for whistleblowers
  • 94 % of Democrats want stronger protection for whistleblowers

The only thing holding back effective whistleblower laws in the United States is the lobbying power of special interests and powerful government officials’ hostility toward dissent. This must end. Whistleblowing has proven to be the most effective means to detect waste, fraud, abuse and threats to the public health and safety. The United States Strategy on Countering Corruption represents a roadmap for action. It’s time for the President, Congress and those running agencies such as the Department of Treasury and the SEC to get the job done. 

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