For the first time in decades, advocates for government whistleblowers have a seat at the White House policy table.
“After 1,000 points of darkness, we now have 1,000 points of light,” Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project told Corporate Crime Reporter last week.
“Before President Obama – either the Republicans didn’t have the time of day for us, or the Democrats like Clinton and Carter didn’t have the time of day for us until the decision was made and then they would call us in and say – thank you for all you have done. But we never had a voice before the decisions were made until the decisions were made.”
Devine said that President Obama “has enfranchised the civil liberties activists for the first time in 30 years.”
“Now we have a voice,” Devine said. “We are meeting with White House ethics counsel Norm Eisen. We are meeting with the general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget. We are meeting with the top appointees at the Department of Justice.”
“It has made a major difference – step by exhausting plodding step,” Devine said.
“The Obama administration started out with positions that largely reflected the career staff it inherited,” Devine said. “But they were preliminary policies. And they gave us the opportunity to rebut them.”
“They have listened to our rebuttals. And they have reversed many long standing bureaucratic positions. Not as many as we think are necessary for a best practices whistleblower law like the president campaigned for. But it leaves behind in the dust the concessions and flexibility of any other president.”
“The result is that for the first time in 30 years, we have the key Senate approvals to get jury trials to enforce government whistleblower rights. We’ve been fighting for that for three decades and consistently hitting a wall.”
“And this July, thanks to going to the mat, behind closed doors, all out advocacy by the Obama administration, the senate committee approved it and it’s a foregone conclusion now.”
“Instead of being sent to administrative boards that are kangaroos courts to enforce their rights, whistleblowers are going to have access to juries of citizens now.”
“The other victory will be opening up normal access to the appeals courts to challenge interpretations of law that have gutted the whistleblower protection act in the past,” Devine said. “The primary reason the whistleblower protection law has failed is because the appeals court has functionally overturned the statute three times on non constitutional grounds. Since October 1994 when it was enacted, that court has ruled against whistleblowers in 203 out of 206 decisions on the merits.”
But Devine expressed frustration with the Obama administration when it comes to national security (CIA, FBI and NSA) whistleblowers.
“The experience has almost been the opposite so far on national security whistleblowers,” Devine said. “The administration has been close minded about giving them normal access to court.”
“Since their disclosures have been the most important exercise of freedom of speech, defending liberty from threats by your own government, that they are the most important whistleblowers to earn first class rights,” Devine said.