2018 Whistleblower Summit: Government Officials Supporting Truth-Tellers

This is the first in a five-part series.

This year’s Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights (Summit), an annual event for whistleblowers and their advocates, kicked off on July 30, National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. The Summit was organized by ACORN 8 and other members of the Make It Safe Coalition. Ralph Nader held the first whistleblower conference in Washington DC nearly five decades ago, and we were proud to participate in this year’s gathering to honor our modern-day heroes. The Summit was filled with sage advice from whistleblowers, advocates and government officials, and the following highlights do not capture the breadth of material covered. Further information can be found at the summit’s website.

The Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus sponsored this year’s National Whistleblower Appreciation Day resolution, S. Res. 558. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of Senate Judiciary Caucus and co-chair of the Whistleblower Caucus, provided opening remarks to commemorate the day, saying, “Congress has sought to protect whistleblowers [because] it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the sensible thing to do … Whistleblowers … know where to find the waste, fraud, abuse and corruption.”

During the summit luncheon, Senator Grassley cited the effectiveness of the False Claims Act, which has been used to recover more than $56 billion in taxpayer dollars since it was enacted in 1987. He remarked that whistleblowers are the most effective resources for draining the swamp, and he challenged President Trump to hold a Rose Garden ceremony to honor these courageous truth-tellers.

In recognition of this year’s 40th anniversary of the Inspector General Act, Michael Horowitz, Inspector General (IG) of the Justice Department, explained that IGs rely heavily on whistleblowers, and it is often the only way they learn what is going in an organization. He told whistleblowers that he wants to “make sure you have a safe place to speak truth to power”, which is why his office has supported measures such as the recently passed Whistleblower Protection Coordination Act, which will make permanent and strengthen whistleblower coordinators within federal agencies. Relatedly, in the National Security Agency (NSA) OIG’s semi-annual report to Congress, NSA IG Robert Storch highlighted the significant role of whistleblowers and steps his office has taken to enhance it’s whistleblower program, including coordination with the whistleblower advocacy community.

Tristan Leavitt, Principle Deputy Special Counsel for the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) – the federal agency tasked with protecting federal whistleblowers from retaliation – acknowledged that this year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Civil Service Reform Act, which was passed in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and established rules and procedures for federal employees. He cautioned that at the end of the day, even when whistleblowers have rights, remedies can take time, and a lot of harm can come to a whistleblower before that individual is vindicated. He referenced pioneer Pentagon whistleblower Ernie Fitzgerald, who exposed massive taxpayer waste and coined the term “commit the truth”, because whistleblowers are often treated as if they have committed a crime for exposing a crime. Leavitt expressed, “I’m grateful for the courageous men and women who put their careers on the line to shine light” on government wrongdoing.