A Timely Panel: Government Accountability Project Joins Bestselling Author for Launch of Book Tour
By Emma Lyons
On Tuesday, October 1st, Government Accountability Project was honored to be an integral part of the launch of New York Times-bestselling author Tom Mueller’s new book, Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud . Crisis of Conscience focuses on the social and legal evolution of whistleblowing, illustrating why institutions engage in wrongdoing through riveting legal cases and grounded in an examination of the economic, sociological, and psychological forces that breed corruption and complicity. It eloquently demonstrates the important role whistleblowers play in exposing and addressing wrongdoing in many government and corporate sectors including national security, nuclear weapons cleanup, health care, bank fraud, drug safety, and more.
Although whistleblower protection has always been of vital importance to our democracy, Mueller’s book launch could not be timelier in light of recent news about impeachment proceedings spurred by political interference with an intelligence whistleblower’s disclosures about President Trump’s effort to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival. While much of the conversation on Tuesday was devoted to Crisis of Conscience, the concern and curiosity about the current news landscape could not be ignored.
From left: Tom Devine, Legal Director; author Tom Mueller; Halifax Healthcare whistleblower Elin Baklid-Kunz; and Louis Clark, Executive Director & CEO.
Tom Mueller was joined by a special guest, Halifax Health whistleblower Elin Baklid-Kunz. Elin was a hospital compliance officer and physician services director for Halifax Health who disclosed millions of dollars in Medicare fraud as well as unnecessary and dangerous medical procedures performed for financial interests rather than patient health. In addition to Ms. Baklid-Kunz, Government Accountability Project Legal Director Tom Devine and Executive Director and Founder Louis Clark joined the conversation to explain the patchwork of legal protections that shield whistleblowers from the threat and execution of retaliation. The four speakers provided for a well-rounded, informed, expert panel on whistleblowers, all eloquently applying Tom Mueller’s new book to current news topics to help explain the relevance and value that Crisis of Conscience adds to understanding the essential role whistleblowers play in exposing serious abuses and protecting democracy.
Louis started the conversation by acknowledging that this is a vital time to be advocating for whistleblower rights, noting that in addition to celebrating Tom Mueller’s new book, we hope that the greater awareness it spurs about whistleblowing will help fuel our work to improve whistleblower protection legislation. He gave a glowing review of Crisis of Conscience, calling it an authoritative contribution to the field, and calling on all of us to do our part to support whistleblowers by championing the truth. Paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, he said we have a republic, but it is up to all of us to keep it.
Following Louis’ opening remarks, Tom Mueller acknowledged the hard work Government Accountability Project does to defend whistleblower rights and to push for better legislation for whistleblower protection, as well as our role as resources for research for the book. He reflected that society functions as a never ending cycle of individuals and groups, and whistleblowers are individuals who have a strong ethical compass that they follow even when they are in a tight packed crowd moving in the opposite direction. His book aimed to examine the institutional and personal reasons why so many people have lost their compasses, and what can be done to turn more in the direction of truth and ethical action. He expressed his sincere hope that his book, Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, doesn’t just sit on shelves but instead helps catalyze change, give people new role models and new ideals to follow, serve as a force to drive new and better whistleblower legislation, and promote a more supportive culture for truth-tellers. He then proceeded to introduce Elin.
Elin started by thanking Tom Mueller and Government Accountability Project for working to educate people on the importance of whistleblowers. Elin used the Nordic concept of the Law of Jante to juxtapose the culture of individuality and hierarchy in the United States. The Law of Jante is a code of conduct that, in some cases, actually encourages group behavior, but for Elin this law helped her to step forward as a whistleblower. The law emphasizes that all people are equal. Because of this, Elin was able to see that her bosses were no better than her or the people they were harming; even though she was being gaslighted in the course of making disclosures, she knew her concerns were valid and worth pursuing. She also discussed the hardships she faced as a whistleblower, noting how the experience consumed her and prompted a constant psychological absence that even her children noticed, which was particularly painful. She was very clear, however, about not regretting coming forward: she felt she did not have a choice, and that she was really just doing her job.
After Elin spoke, Tom Devine began a lively and inspiring conversation about not just educating folks about whistleblowers, but also taking action to secure protection for them. He noted how behind we are in whistleblower protection laws compared to the rest of the world. He outlined the key improvements we are seeking to the Whistleblower Protection Act: the right to a jury trial in federal court; the right to challenge retaliatory investigations; and the extension of temporary relief for whistleblowers whenever they prove a prima facie case of retaliation.
He also discussed the classic technique many corporations and government agencies use to discredit whistleblowers: shifting the focus from the message to the messenger. He noted that the current whistleblower in the news is already starting to face this technique of slander and intimidation. He encouraged everyone to sign our petition, noting that the fatal word for whistleblowers is isolation, but if they have solidarity, there is nothing stronger than the truth. Tom Mueller closed by thanking all the whistleblowers he has had the honor of meeting, and offering hope that maybe “whistleblowing” shouldn’t be such an unusual status, but should be the default for people who behave ethically, speak freely, and believe in the commonwealth.
If you were unable to attend the book launch, there are a few more stops on Tom Mueller’s book tour you can attend. On Monday October 7th, Tom Mueller will be joined by Tom Devine and Elin Baklid-Kunz again for a panel discussion at George Washington University. On Thursday, October 10th, Tom will be at the Stewart Mott House for an event sponsored by the Fund for Constitutional Government discussing aspects of whistleblowing in the news and the current legislative initiative led by Government Accountability Project to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act. On Friday October11th, Tom will be on a panel entitled “The Big Chill” at the Double Exposure Festival that will explore methods for minimizing risk for whistleblowers in a world of escalating legal and extra-legal retaliation against them. There are several other events scheduled in New York, California, Washington, and Wisconsin as well.
Government Accountability Project encourages you to attend and spread the word about Tom Mueller’s future events, and to buy his book, Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, one of the most important and comprehensive contributions to understanding the essential role of whistleblowers written to date.