Washington, DC – In prelude to the annual Whistleblower Summit and introduction of National Whistleblower Day legislation, over 50 whistleblowers and 29 NGOs sent messages today to President Trump and Congress on how to “drain the swamp” of government bureaucracies, a major campaign pledge articulated by the president. Their message: complete the unfinished business in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2012. Despite a 13-year campaign for that landmark reform, the toughest issues were shelved, such as court access and protection against retaliatory investigations used to fuel criminal witch-hunts. The bottom line? As 54 whistleblowers warned, “Despite significant improvements on paper, in terms of enforcement the rules are still rigged against whistleblowers.”

The reason? As the whistleblowers explained in their letter to President Trump:

We heard your pledge to drain the swamp with hope because all of us have risked our professional lives to challenge government abuses of power. After your victory, we will be on duty in the swamp helping to drain it. However, we think you will agree there are a lot of snakes and alligators here. Draining the swamp will be more dangerous and harder than earning voters’ support for that goal. Entrenched government bureaucracies are highly skilled at eliminating any threat to their power. Your leadership will be essential for us to carry out your mandate.

Whistleblowers and NGOs were united on a series of new teeth for the Whistleblower Protection Act to achieve its purpose. Four recommendations address the cornerstones for the law’s current failure.

  1. Jury trials: Federal workers are the only significant sector of the U.S. labor force who cannot seek enforcement of whistleblower rights in court. The administrative Merit System Protection Board lacks the expertise and independence for politically sensitive or high-stakes cases of national significance – the most important reasons we need whistleblowers.
  2. Protection against the full scope of harassment: U.S. whistleblower laws only protect workers against employment retaliation, leaving them defenseless against retaliation with a greater chilling effect, such as criminal investigation and referral for prosecution. Since the WPEA made it harder to fire employees, heavy-handed criminal investigations have soared. This “witch hunt loophole” must be closed.
  3. Temporary relief: More than anything else, temporary relief ends unnecessary, prolonged conflict. Without it, agencies drag out cases indefinitely, because they are winning throughout delays: the whistleblower is without income and has vanished from the workplace. Since delays frequently last over five years, winning is too late for whistleblowers, who have often already gone bankrupt. Currently, the only realistic chance for temporary relief is through the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which only can act anecdotally. The rules must be evened so whistleblowers have a fair chance to stop the bleeding.
  4. Accountability through discipline: Currently there is no deterrent effect to prevent retaliation, because accountability is almost nonexistent. Only the OSC can seek discipline under touch standards, and prosecutions almost never occur. As a result, bureaucratic bullies have nothing to lose. The worst that will happen is they won’t get away with it – and they probably can be rewarded. Senate-passed legislation by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) would reverse that dynamic by requiring agencies automatically to discipline managers found guilty of retaliation after OSC, Inspector General or related probes.

Twenty-nine organizations echoed the whistleblowers’ platform in a petition to the President and Congress. The solidarity was bipartisan and trans-ideological.

Contact: Alice Newberry, GAP Program Associate
Phone: 202.457.0034 x162
Email: [email protected]

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.