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DOJ leaves whistleblowers hanging

Photo from flickr / hugoelectronic

An article in the Washington Post on Wednesday reported that more than 900 whistleblower cases have built up over the past 10 years at the Justice Department. The commercial litigation branch of the department’s civil division blames the backlog on their being understaffed. Many of the cases involve the privatization of government services, government contractors supplying goods and services to the U.S. military, and Medicare and Medicaid payments to pharmaceutical companies.

The article reveals that often whistleblowers must wait 14 months or more to even find out if the department will accept their cases. Then, if it does take on a case, the department will likely take years to investigate and decide if the whistleblower’s claim has merit. Out of 24 cases involving contractors defrauding the U.S. military during wartime, the Department of Justice has awarded settlements to whistleblowers in only five of them. That’s one court settlement per year that the U.S. has been at war. The Department of Justice should be doing more to deter what Rep. Henry Waxman told the BBC is perhaps the “largest war profiteering in history.”

In the Post article, whistleblower lawyers note that the difficulties associated with investigating claims in combat-ravaged zones, and the classified nature of certain military equipment, complicate Department of Justice investigations and set back proceedings indefinitely.

However, one cannot help but wonder if there are political motivations behind the Justice department lawyers taking so long to investigate these cases. True, these whistleblowers are making bold claims pertaining to very politically volatile issues, such as the war in the Middle East. Nevertheless, when whistleblowers decide to risk their jobs to expose their companies’ corrupt business practices, these patriots deserve better than to be forced to sit idly by and wait a decade or more for results.

The Post article relates one whistleblower case in which the plaintiff was awarded a settlement after 12 or so years. The case is likely to be tried in appeals court. However, during the time that the case was being investigated, many witnesses’ memories about the defendants’ corrupt acts faded, and a federal agency threw away its files on the case. When cases take 12 years to be investigated, and plaintiffs’ arguments in court are compromised as a result, both whistleblowers and their counsels are deterred from filing complaints in the first place. The Department of Justice needs to handle whistleblowers’ cases more quickly and efficiently, or dishonest government contractors triumph, and both the federal government and taxpayers lose out.

To read more about the need for stronger whistleblower protection, go to our Project Whistleblowers page.