Anyone Can Whistle: The Essential Role of the Whistleblower in American Society

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On February 17 the Government Accountability Project teamed up with Participant Media and the Paley Center for Media in New York City for a televised, long-format special featuring legendary whistleblowers. The program detailed and analyzed what whistleblowers are, the six stages of whistleblowing they typically experience, and their lack of legal protections. Noted guests for the event included Daniel Ellsberg, former FDA commissioner David Kessler, former NYPD whistleblower Frank Serpico, FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley, and others. See Details for more information and link to video of the event.

The essential messages of the program were:

•  Whistleblowers are tremendously important to society
•  Legal protections for federal and corporate whistleblowers are grossly inadequate, and must be strengthened
•  The public can change this harsh reality by taking action (see here)

The program was streamed live over the Internet, and broadcast to over 120 college campuses around the country via satellite. See here for video.

Noted guests for the event included:

•  Daniel Ellsberg – The patriarch of modern whistleblowing, his disclosures (the Pentagon Papers) as a Rand Corporation/DoD analyst exposed deceit and concealment involving the government’s handling of the Vietnam War.

•  Kit Foshee – A meat safety whistleblower who exposed serious problems with ammoniated beef product from a major supplier.

•  Mike German – A former undercover FBI agent who infiltrated terrorist groups before blowing the whistle on his field office’s illegal wiretaps on suspects. Now with the ACLU, German discussed current legislative fixes for whistleblower protections.

•  Cathy Harris – A U.S. Customs official who blew the whistle on African-Americans being unfairly targeted as potential drug smugglers.

•  Dr. David Kessler – The former FDA Commissioner who worked with “The Insider” Dr. Jeff Wigand to challenge Big Tobacco.

•  Babak Pasdar – A computer security expert who exposed that a major telecommunication company provided the federal government unfettered access to its customers’ private communications.

•  Coleen Rowley – Noted FBI whistleblower who detailed intelligence breakdowns in relation to the 9/11 attacks, and Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2002.

•  Frank Serpico – NYPD whistleblower whose story is memorialized by the film that shares his name.

NPR and FOX News’ Juan Williams was the moderator.

The event also served as a kickoff for the Government Accountability Project’s campaign to strengthen corporate whistleblower rights. (see here)

The following is from a post by Louis Clark, president of GAP:

Anyone Can Whistle

by Louis Clark on February 19, 2010

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.

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.

Climate Science Watch is a sponsored project of the Government Accountability Project.

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