Word On: Whistleblowers PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Monday, 29 August 2011 09:28

Q: What prompted your longstanding advocacy of whistleblowers?

A: Whistleblowers are unsung heroes who often risk losing their livelihoods, friends and career to expose wrongdoing. It takes courage and integrity to go against the grain, especially in deeply entrenched federal bureaucracies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  In both the public and private sectors, an underlying rule of thumb within the workplace can be to go along to get along. Taxpayers and the general public owe a debt of gratitude to those who fight an often lonely crusade to blow the whistle from within their ranks and expose fraud.

More than 25 years ago I began advocating for whistleblowers when an employee at the Defense Department started raising questions about the astronomical prices being paid for toilet seats, hammers and coffee pots at the Pentagon. After learning about these excessive costs, I started a campaign that exposed cozy contracts and a flagrant absence of financial accountability at the Defense Department. Not surprisingly, the whistleblower in the Defense Department case was less popular at work than a skunk at a Sunday afternoon picnic. Unfortunately, this description still rings true today. 

Q:  Is there legislation to help whistleblowers?

A:  In 1986, I co-authored an update of Abraham Lincoln’s False Claims Act to include “qui tam” provisions. This legal tool empowers ordinary citizens to bring a lawsuit alleging fraud on behalf of the U.S. government.  The law has helped recover more than $28 billion back to taxpayers, primarily from fraud by government contractors and against government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  In 2009 I co-authored the Fraud Enforcement Recovery Act that was signed into law.  This new law overturns a number of court decisions that limited the scope and applicability of the False Claims Act ensuring that the law will protect taxpayer dollars for generations to come. 

I also co-wrote the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act for government employees who stand up and speak out against wrongdoing and waste of taxpayer dollars.  Since then, I have co-authored legislation to bolster the law in response to rulings by the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  These rulings were often based upon incorrect interpretations of the law and supported the general anti-whistleblower sentiment found in executive branch agencies. The bill, introduced with Senator Akaka of Hawaii, is called the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. 

Q: Do whistleblowers still need protection?

A: It’s a constant battle to make sure that whistleblower protections aren’t watered down and that whistleblowers aren’t retaliated against.  Whether raising the red flag on government waste and wrongdoing, health care or defense contractor fraud, or corporate corruption, whistleblowers put a lot on the line to protect the public and taxpayers. And, unfortunately, all too often, the federal bureaucracy seems to line up against them, maybe now more than ever.  Whistleblowers deserve strong protections under the law from intimidation, harassment, demotion or even dismissal for doing the right thing.  Our system of self-government is strengthened when government is made more transparent, more accessible and more accountable.

August 26, 2011

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