Our government’s integrity depends on the commitment and effort of millions of federal employees, contractors and grantees around the world. Those same workers are in the best position to learn when decisions and actions deviate from the core mission and responsibilities of government, be it through corruption, failing to comply with laws and regulations, wasting taxpayer money, jeopardizing public health and safety, or otherwise abusing the public trust. As a new administration takes office and the coronavirus pandemic continues, information remains our most powerful tool to promote open and accountable government. In order to support those speaking up for truth, we developed the second edition of our guide for 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 you have yet to raise concerns or have already made disclosures, this guide is the first step for navigating the complex path of whistleblowing safely and effectively.
Science whistleblowers have historically functioned as one of the most powerful vehicles for exposing environmental, health, and safety risks, research censorship, gross mismanagement, and other abuses that undermine the missions of federal agencies to protect the public interest. This free guide seeks to empower and protect federal employees of conscience by offering guidance about their legal rights to blow the whistle and practical advice for making disclosures about wrongdoing in the safest and most effective ways possible.
The partnership between whistleblowers and journalists is essential to a functioning democracy. The power of whistleblowers to hold institutions and leaders accountable often depends on the critical work of journalists who verify whistleblowers’ disclosures and bring them to the public. This free guide seeks to empower and protect journalists and their whistleblower sources by sharing critical information about their shared goals, responsibilities, and challenges.
This resource was developed to support advocacy groups that, in the course of working on issues across the social, economic, and environmental justice spectrums, might encounter employees who want to share important information to advance accountability. The free guide offers practical guidance to help them protect and support potential whistleblowers while ensuring they are not inadvertently exposed to retaliation.
National Press Club, Washington, DC, March 27, 2018
Panel discussion examining how the Trump administration uses public information officers to limit and shape reporters’ access to government information. Tom Devine, Government Accountability Project Legal Director, is featured as an expert panelist.
State Farm Ethics Lecture, University of Nebraska Lincoln, September 20, 2017
Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Director of Education, facilitates a conversation with whistleblowers Richard Bowen and Walt Tamosaitis on their decisions to blow the whistle, the retaliation they suffered, and the changes they saw their disclosures make. Gold has been an advocate for whistleblowers for close to three decades as an attorney, an academic, and a program director.
TEDx Wilmington Salon: Whistleblowers and the First Amendment, July 30, 2016
In this talk on whistleblowing as freedom of speech, Government Accountability Project Legal Director, Tom Devine, illustrates the historical impact of whistleblowers and the potential of their truth to positively shape society. Devine has assisted thousands of whistleblowers since joining Government Accountability Project in 1979, and he won the first U.S. Supreme Court test of the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2015.
TEDx Wilmington Salon: Whistleblowers and the First Amendment, July 30, 2016
In this speech by Louis Clark, Executive Director of Government Accountability Project, Clark frames whistleblowing as the inconvenient truth that is worth championing. Clark founded the organization in 1977 and has received numerous awards for his long-lasting commitment to advocating for social and political change.
Reports and Publications
Are Whistleblowing Laws Working? A Global Study of Whistleblower Protection Legislation (March 2021) – In collaboration with the International Bar Association, Government Accountability Project tracked the records of whistleblower laws in 37 countries, examining the strength of national laws on paper compared with consensus international best practices. The report is an unprecedented effort to understand the successes and shortcomings of whistleblower protection legislation worldwide.
Ten Years After Deep Water Horizon: Whistleblowers Continue to Suffer an Unending Medical Nightmare Triggered by Corexit (April 2020): Government Accountability Project conducted a year-long study on the effects of the cleanup agent Corexit used in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This report, marking the 10th anniversary of that spill, details the steep environmental, economic, and health tolls that the use of Corexit and government inaction have continued to take on people living in the Gulf of Mexico region.
Assessment of the Implementation of the International Banks Whistleblower Policies (September 2019): Government Accountability Project examined the progress of five major international banks in implementing their whistleblower policies. The report seeks not to evaluate the existing policies but rather to assess their implementation; such assessment is necessary to determine if whistleblower claims are being resolved appropriately and moreover whether the policies are working as intended.
Protecting Science at Federal Agencies: How Congress Can Help (November 2018): Government Accountability Project collaborated with 11 other public interest organizations to record new and ongoing threats to the communication of science and its use in public health and environmental policy decisions, as well as recommending steps Congress can take in response (additional blog post here).
Protecting Whistleblowers in South Africa: How Well is the Law Working for People? (September 2018): Preliminary report utilizing 30 court cases to assess the effectiveness of the comprehensive legal protections for whistleblowers, which South Africa adopted in 2000.
Promoting and Sustaining the National Climate Assessment After a Period of Suppression and Political Influence: A Cautionary Tale (January 2017): Analyzes the suppression of the first National Climate Assessment during the George W. Bush administration. By detailing how officials systematically censored sensitive climate change information, this report presents a strong case for supporting and defending the USGCRP and the climate change impacts assessment process.
A Whistleblower’s Bill of Rights Through a World Bank Lens (December 2016): Former Carvalho Fellow Keith Henderson provides extensive analysis concluding that the measures in place at the World Bank to protect staff members from retaliation after disclosing improprieties do not meet the best-practice standard set out in U.S. law.
Why Whistleblowers Wait: Recommendations to Improve the Dodd Frank Law’s SEC Whistleblower Awards Program (February 2016): Warns that arbitrary rulings could discourage disclosures by convincing would-be whistleblowers that the Security and Exchange Commission’s award system: “neither offers proportional incentives that overcome the risks of disclosure, nor is grounded in the reality whistleblowers face…”
Representative Cases in Which the United Nations or its Funds, Programmes or Agencies have not Complied with Best Practices in Whistleblower Protection (August 2014): Details ten representative whistleblower cases from the United Nations and its funds, programs and agencies. The report examines the institution’s failure to implement best practices for the protection of whistleblowers, in violation of the 2014 U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Banking Sector Accountability: Understanding and Handling the Complex ‘SOX Plus One’ Whistleblower Claim (September 2013): This best practices report aims to inform legal counsel for whistleblowers about how to navigate banking and financial institution whistleblower claims – not only under protection laws, but also under federal statutes that can provide financial rewards to clients.
The Current State of Whistleblowing Laws in Europe (April 2013): Details how very few European countries have enacted laws that directly protect whistleblowers in stark contrast to the United States, which offers a multitude of different protections for employees across corporate industries and government agencies.
Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the new Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups? (April 2013): Details the devastating long-term effects on human health and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem stemming from BP and the federal government’s widespread use of the dispersant Corexit, in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Evidence suggests that the cleanup effort has been more destructive to human health and the environment than the spill itself.
International Best Practices in Whistleblower Protections (March 2013): Checklist of 20 requirements that reflects an organizational history of lessons learned about the difference between policy rhetoric and meaningful, ‘bullet-proof’ anti-retaliation measures. All the concepts set out exist in various employee protection statutes currently on the books in the United States or other countries.
Tipping the Scales: Is the United Nations Justice System Promoting Accountability in the Peacekeeping Missions or Undermining It? (September 2012): Analyzes the impact of the United nations internal justice system on accountability practices int he UN peacekeeping missions based on a review of two years of UN Dispute Tribunal and UN Appeals Tribunal judgments, and 36 interviews with key UN personnel, external attorneys and whistleblowers from eight different peacekeeping missions.
How the World Bank’s Peer Review Services Deny Staff the Right to a Fair Hearing (August 2011): Evaluates reforms to the World Bank’s Peer Review Services, finds that the internal justice system used by bank whistleblowers fails to comply with international human right standards, and proposes solutions to address these shortcomings.
Whistleblower Witch Hunts (December 2010): Exposes illegal tactics widely used by federal authorities to silence employees who call attention to security lapses, dangers to the public, and abuses of power within their agencies.
The Foundation for the Future: What FOIA Documents Reveal (July 2010): Exposes the highly irregular manner in which the Foundation for the Future, an obscure project funded by the U.S. Department of State, was established and operated by Bush administration officials and appointees. Read the Executive Summary here. Key FOIA documents: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Appendix.
Lack of Security for World Bank Staff and Consultants (March 2010): Documents the lack of security for World Bank staff and consultants, based on the experience of an International Finance Corporation employee.
The IDB, Poverty and Racial Discrimination (October 2009): Shows the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the most important mutlilateral lender to Latin America, fails to promote racial equality adequately. The issue affects the identification, preparation, and implementation of IDB programs and projects in the region, as well as the Bank’s hiring, retention, and promotion practices. Executive Summary in English. Resumen Ejecutivo en Español. El Informe en Español.
Corrupt Privatization Does Not Deter IMF Lending to Sri Lanka (July 2009): Government Accountability Project and Consultants 21 Limited report on the International Monetary Fund’s continued lending to Sri Lanka to reverse declines in tax revenues despite the budget deficits being a result of a lack of safeguard measures to protect state assets, corruption, and fraud favoring private interests in the sale of state-owned enterprises.
www.consultants21.com (Lanka Marine Services Supreme Court Judgement, Sri Lanka Insurance Company Supreme Court Judgement)
The ABC’s of Drug Safety: Accountability, Balance, and Citizen Emplowerment (April 2009): Examines a number of controversies with regard to clinical trial studies and institutional review boards – analyzing how major players at both the corporate and FDA levels have too often failed to perform their critical duties to safeguard human health. More importantly, this report proposes constructive reforms to the overall process.
Running the Gauntlet: The Campaign for Credible Corporate Whistleblower Rights (September 2008): Surveys the dangerous landscape of corporate whistleblower laws, and recommends strategies for corporate whistleblowers to best protect themselves from further retaliation.
Privatization & Corruption: The World Bank and Azerbaijan (August 2008): Exposes the World Bank’s role in the widespread corruption surrounding privatization in Azerbaijan during the late 1990’s.
Plundering the Yerevan Water Utility (August 2008): Investigates allegations of corruption in the World Bank-funded Municipal Development Project (MDP) in Yerevan, Armenia.
Risky Appropriations: Gambling US Energy Policy on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (March 2008): Details the severe shortcomings and false assertions posed in the Global Energy Nuclear Partnership. Fact sheet here.
OSLA Proposal for the United Nations (November 2007): Discusses possible models and recommendations for the proposed UN Office of Staff Legal Assistance, using national and international precedents as a guide.
Review of the Department of Institutional Integrity at the World Bank (September 2007): Reviews the World Bank’s Department of Institutional Integrity and its practices from 2005-2007 and documents several immediate and long-term problems at INT.
Citizens Environmental Monitoring and Technical Assessment – Los Alamos (July 2007): Details the elevated and potentially harmful levels of radioactivity that are present in environmental samples collected in the area around the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Radioactive Wastes and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (April 2007): Examines the Department of Energy’s Global Nuclear Partnership, a program that proposes to expand nuclear energy worldwide.
Redacting the Science of Climate Change (March 2007): Findings of a year-long investigation into political interference at federal climate science agencies.
Atmosphere of Pressure (February 2007): Government Accountability Project and the Union of Concerned Scientists uncover new evidence of widespread political interference in federal climate science.
Nongovernmental Monitoring and Technical Assessment of Past, Present, and Future Techa River Radiation (October 2006): Details the levels of radionuclear contamination in the Techa River and Chelyabinsk region of Russia.
Systematic Injustice: Hanford Worker’s Compensation Program (August 2006): Documents the Department of Energy’s interference with Hanford worker’s compensation claims and supplies update on conditions and provides remedies.
Citizens Monitoring of Columbia River Radionuclides (June 2005): Scientific analysis of chemical contaminants finds previously unknown measures of radioactivity around the perimeter of the Hanford nuclear site in Richland, WA. Fact sheet here. FAQ here.
Shielding the Giant (2003): Investigative report records USDA’s failure to act on evidence that ConAgra was shipping E. coli contaminated ground beef.
Hamburger Hell: The Flip Side of USDA’s Salmonella Testing Program (2002): Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen document flaws in the implementation of USDA’s salmonella testing program.
The Jungle 2000: Is America’s Food Fit to Eat? (2000): Government Accountability Project and PUblic Citizen document the experiences of USDA inspectors as meat processors began to implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plans.