The importance of whistleblowers in preventing fraud and wrongdoing is increasingly apparent. From high-profile whistleblower Edward Snowden who sounded the alarm on NSA bulk data collection, to whistleblowers alerting the government to fraud in Medicaid, Medicare, tax reporting and government contracts, whistleblowers are making headlines and prompting important policy discussions.
Whistleblowers can reap financial rewards for helping the government recover money by bringing qui tam lawsuits in cases involving government fraud. But there are risks to sounding the alarm. A whistleblower could face retaliation by his or her employer in the public or private sector. Fortunately, trends in legislation continue to move towards providing broader protections for whistleblowers since there's a growing awareness about what an important role they play in fighting wrongdoing.
Whistleblowers Increasingly Getting More Protections
The Washington Post reported one of the areas where steps are being taken involves providing more protections for whistleblowers who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing. The Post said new whistleblower protections have been proposed in the House of Representatives designed to give the government more power to fire employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs who perform poorly. While Democrats ultimately rejected the controversial VA bill because of its impact on federal employee unions, the bill contained a provision that Republicans and Democrats both favored. This provision would have created stronger protections for whistleblowers.
The Post stated that under the bill proposed by the House of Representatives, "whistleblowers would gain some of the strongest protections in history." The terms of the bill would have required supervisors to report concerns raised by whistleblowers up the chain of command when whistleblowers expose evidence of wrongdoing. Supervisors who fail to report claims of wrongdoing would then be held accountable under the proposed bill. In addition, every employee at the VA would be required to undergo training focused on how to protect whistleblowers.
The proposed House bill also strengthened the penalties for supervisors who retaliated against a whistleblower. Such supervisors would be subject to mandatory disciplinary actions. The penalty for the first offense of retaliating against a whistleblower includes a 14-day minimum suspension for a first offense and removal from their management position for a second offense.
VA officials opposed the proposed protections for whistleblowers, arguing they are unnecessary. The VA Office of Accountability Review indicated the agency is already working closely with the Office of the Special Counsel, which investigates claims of retaliation against federal employees, to punish retaliatory supervisors for mistreating whistleblowers. However, even if the agency does punish managers who retaliate against whistleblowers (and it is far from certain), having mandatory punishments in place for retaliation would be a stronger deterrent.
Whistleblowers who expose evidence of wrongdoing, whether it's financial fraud or other illegal activity, deserve to be protected under the law. Hopefully, lawmakers will renew efforts to strengthen protections for whistleblowers. That way, more people will hopefully have the courage to speak out and have their rights protected.