This post was written by GAP President Louis Clark for TakePart.com in advance of a GAP event on February 17, 2010. GAP, along with Participant Media, Warner Bros. Pictures, and The Paley Center, hosted an evening of whistleblowing with legendary whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg, Frank Serpico and more. Watch the event here.
Transparency and accountability are essential for an effective government. Without such, the public finds routine unfettered corruption, threats to public health, and an eventual disenfranchised citizenry. Whistleblowers are catalysts for restoring integrity. With community support they expose wrongdoing, raise awareness of dangerous conditions, pave the way for reform, and restore openness.
There are few aspects of government, commerce, or public well-being that whistleblowers have not impacted positively. They are our eyes and ears preserving public safety, exposing corruption, protecting the environment, saving tax dollars, and challenging abuses of power. They work for governments, corporations, and other essential institutions.
Many are threatened with firing and the sabotage of their careers; others even have reason to fear violence. Essentially, whistleblowers risk everything. Often they don’t understand how risky it is to blow the whistle and challenge wrongdoing. They are simply doing their job in the most ethical way, which means when they see a problem, they report it. Clearly these are exactly the sort of employees that a well-run organization would cherish.
Whistleblowers provide the spark. They make the initial waves. But without critical allies, they sink beneath the waves they created.
On February 17, a number of national good-government groups are kicking off a campaign to enhance whistleblower protections for federal employees and the employees of federal contractors. Once successful, their next targets will be bills pending in Congress to extend effective legal protections for corporate employees as well. The kick-off event is entitled “Anyone Can Whistle,” and it is being held at the magnificent Paley Center for Media.
Each of us has a role to play. People should join the campaign to enact new rules to protect those brave employees whose vital information enlighten, inform and enfranchise all of us.
For starters, we must fix the broken laws that no longer protect federal government employees. Since 2000, only two government whistleblowers have won their legal cases–in contrast to sixteen each month that lose their initial legal hearings. Government contractor employees, who now greatly outnumber federal employees, have essentially no rights at all to raise serious concerns.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act could change everything. It has passed the House of Representatives twice with majority support from both major parties. This legislation is bottled up in the Senate. It unanimously passed critical Senate committees–only to languish now.
This situation is untenable. People need to write their Senators demanding that they take appropriate action to free the whistleblower protection reform from stalemate and legislative inaction. Senators need to hear from concerned citizens on behalf of courageous civil servants and civic-minded federal employees.
Members of the House of Representatives should be congratulated for the House’s action in passing previous meaningful bills. However they might have voted the first two times the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act was before them, they should be urged to support the bill the next time they have a chance to vote on it.
In the meantime, every other day or so, another federal whistleblower loses his/her case for want of adequate legal protection. As a nation we cannot allow this injustice to continue. Our tax dollars, health, safety, environment, and welfare are dependent on employees who work for us. It is not conscionable to expect them to continue to serve us without giving them the legal tools necessary to protect themselves.
This is the time to act.