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2018 Whistleblower Summit: Tips for Whistleblowers Working with Congress

This is the fourth post in a five-part series.

The panel on working with Congress offered a wealth of advice from congressional staff and advocates on whistleblower collaboration with the legislative branch.  Sarah Garcia, Senior Counsel for the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee minority, shared that her Committee begins by looking at the facts involved in the whistleblower’s case and determining what, if anything, Congress can do in response. Congress’ primary ability “is the power of the pen,” Garcia explained.

DeLisa Lay, Senior Investigative Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee majority, shared that the Committee’s primary role is to engage in oversight to ensure that agencies are fulfilling their missions. For instance, they are currently looking into the Security and Exchange Commission’s proposed new rules for its whistleblower program.

Krista Boyd, General Counsel for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee minority, explained “it helps if we have more than one whistleblower to identify it is a systemic problem,” which can lead to Congressional investigations and oversight letters on agency misconduct.

Elizabeth Hempowicz, Policy Director for the Project On Government Oversight, discussed efforts by advocates and the House Whistleblower Protection Caucus to increase congressional staff capacity to work with whistleblowers.

Tom Devine summarized the panel’s advice for how whistleblowers can work most effectively with Congress into 10 points:

  1. Do your homework before you contact Congress. Be strategic in who you meet with, research the office’s jurisdiction, track record, and their ability to deliver results.
  2. Establish the ground rules for your relationship with the offices, such as confidentiality.
  3. Prepare a one to two page fact sheet that extracts your case’s key facts and conclusions.
  4. In addition to the fact sheet, prepare a timeline of the key events in your whistleblowing.
  5. Distill your introductory presentation down to a two to three minute summary, and practice it!
  6. Do speak in consequences. Discuss what impact your disclosures have on the public.
  7. Do not make it a briefing on your own injustices. If Congress decides the issue is significant and has public policy impacts, then the office will also want to know how you are being mistreated.
  8. Demystify the technical jargon for the offices.
  9. Be prepared to back-up everything you say with documents, but before providing additional evidence, let the staff determine what documentation they need.
  10. Be a navigator. Let the office know that you know what documents to ask for, which witnesses to speak with, what the agency excuses will be and how to rebuff them.