Celebrating Sunshine Week in the Time of a New Dawn
Government Accountability Project is shining a light on the importance of whistleblowers to open government during Sunshine Week, March 14-20, 2021.
At Government Accountability Project, we believe that truth deserves a champion. Many of the truths we encounter would likely stay hidden if it weren’t for whistleblowers stepping forward. Their choice to disclose information about wrongdoing they witness in the workplace contributes to a more transparent government, providing greater accountability for our leaders and institutions. We celebrate the importance of open government through Sunshine Week, a week of events led by the News Leaders Association that brings together civic groups, journalists, and elected officials who believe in information transparency to promote good government.
As the nation’s leading whistleblower organization, we’ve seen firsthand how essential open government is for accountability. Throughout history, employees of conscience have bravely stood up to sound the alarm against violations of law, rule or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; abuse of authority; substantial and specific dangers to public health or safety; and scientific censorship. Their disclosures provide verifiable evidence that, with support, can catalyze additional investigations by the press, Congress, oversight agencies, and advocacy groups that can then drive accountability, such as legislative reform and lawsuits.
One tool that has been critical to amplifying whistleblowers’ disclosures is the Freedom of Information Act, which allows organizations like ours the ability to access information that support whistleblowers’ claims and uncover wrongdoing. For example, last month we were able to cite documents that were released via a FOIA request in a call for an investigation into potential wrongdoing by former Trump officials. Working with Open The Government, we sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel alerting them that top officials in the Trump administration may have violated the anti-gag provision by sending emails to employees at the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services that stifled speech. This violates the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which states that any restriction on employees’ speech has to be accompanied by language informing them of their rights to blow the whistle. Our letter stated: “Separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by BuzzFeed News and our organizations recently returned records evidencing these violations in primary documents, including email correspondence and agency communication policies.”
Even more recently, a FOIA request helped us uncover gross waste of over $1 million by the U.S. Agency for Global Media. USAGM, the parent agency of Voice of America, paid law firm McGuireWoods to investigate whistleblowers who protested CEO Michael Pack’s political interference with the independent news mission of the organization. We alerted Congress and federal whistleblower agencies of these alarming payments on behalf of our anonymous whistleblower clients. This information uncovered law firm invoices that detail over 3,000 billed hours at an average rate of over $320 per hour during a three-month period, all of which was part of a no-bid contract. Concern over these payments was first raised by our clients in a letter on President Trump’s final day in office. Pack was later terminated after President Biden was inaugurated the next day, and whistleblowers were reinstated to the agency.
For these cases, and many more, we’re proud to participate in this year’s Sunshine Week. As a new administration takes office and the coronavirus pandemic continues, information continues to be our most powerful tool to promote open and accountable government. In order to support those speaking up for truth, we’re releasing the second edition of Truth-Telling in Government: A Guide to Whistleblowing for Federal Employees, Contractors, & Grantees.
This guide was created to help federal government employees, contractors, and grantees–across all agencies and issues—who have discovered serious abuses of public trust and need guidance about their rights, risks, and options. Whether an individual has yet to raise concerns or already made disclosures, this guide is the first step for navigating the complex path of whistleblowing safely and effectively. This guide, which was first published during Sunshine Week 2020, still contains the most important information whistleblowers need to know, but has been updated to encompass all of the unique circumstances employees of conscience have battled this past year.
As the nation faces a new dawn, the importance of truth still remains important as ever. Join us this Sunshine Week by standing in support of public access to information and the essential role whistleblowers play in promoting open and good government. Because when it comes to truth and information, it’s our right to know.