Upon reflection, if there is one lasting takeaway from last month’s National Whistleblower Appreciation Day (NWAD), it is that while the fight for whistleblowers has made great strides in recent times, the job is never done.
This fight dates back to our country’s Founding Fathers, when 10 sailors blew the whistle on the commander of the Continental Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins. After a petition read to Congress explained Hopkins’ supervision of torture of captured British sailors, America’s first whistleblower protection law was created. Fast-forward to present day, more than 200 years later, and significant whistleblower laws provide all types of employees with the right to report government waste, corruption and wrongdoing.
A summer intern in GAP’s communications department like myself, who started just 10 weeks ago, plays an admittedly small role in a large and historic movement. But in spending any amount of time here, it becomes easy to appreciate the courage shown by the individuals who stand up against some of the largest organizations and agencies in the world, all in the name of truth.
Individuals like whistleblower Eric Ben-Artzi who stood up against Deutsche Bank when he came forward in 2012 with evidence of multi-billion dollar securities violations. Or Walt Tamosaitis, who was terminated after raising safety concerns about the Hanford Nuclear Site.
These stories were featured on NWAD at GAP-produced panels, each one focusing on a different issue facing whistleblowers. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) whistleblower Robert MacLean spoke only on the first panel, but his story resonated throughout the day. As he performed his duties as an Air Marshal more than a decade ago, the TSA sent a text that effectively pulled all marshals off of vulnerable flights due to a lack of funds. Additionally, a new TSA dress code did not give MacLean or his fellow agents an opportunity to effectively protect passengers. In 2003, he disclosed the plan to media outlets, and Congress quickly acted to ensure that a catastrophe was averted. MacLean’s full case can be found here. As MacLean’s case awaits a Supreme Court hearing and the whistleblower community awaits a decision, his story (like many others) is a noble one.
Whistleblowers regularly put the safety of Americans ahead of their own careers, and MacLean is no exception. Although words like “courage” and “noble” might mean little to a whistleblower whose entire personal and professional life has been dissected on every front page and news station, MacLean holds that he would not change a thing. Advocating for all whistleblowers and their legal rights seems like the very least that the public can do in return.
Michael Riley is a Communications Intern for the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.