Members of Congress, oversight officials and federal employees gathered July 30 for National Whistleblower Day — a celebration of employees that call out waste, fraud and abuse in their respective agencies. In conjunction, a major government oversight council announced that such whistleblowers would now have more resources to make sure that they are heard and not retaliated against.
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency released a beta version of its anticipated whistleblower resource page, which provides a series of prompts for federal employees and contractors to either report infractions or find out more information on what constitutes a whistleblower disclosure.
“CIGIE’s new whistleblower resource page is possible because of bipartisan support from the leadership of the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Financial Services and General Government. In fiscal year 2019, the subcommittees provided CIGIE with $2 million to improve oversight.gov as a good government and transparency tool,” a CIGIE press release on the new tool said.
“The whistleblower web page is the first of several planned enhancements, which will also include a tool to track IG vacancies across government and building a pilot database capable of showing open recommendations from all OIGs.”
Those planned enhancements, including the whistleblower tool, were part of CIGIE’s ask of Congress to provide designated funding for its oversight.gov resource page in fiscal year 2019. CIGIE was appropriated $2 million, and the House appropriations bill for 2020 aims to give the agency an additional $1 million.
“Please let us know how we can build it out and improve it further,” said Department of Justice Inspector General and CIGIE Chair Michael Horowitcz at the July 30 celebration of whistleblowers.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said that the centralized nature of the whistleblower resource page is important, because not all inspectors general have pages on their websites dedicated to whistleblower information, and some don’t have the funding to run a website at all.
According to a CIGIE report released alongside the tool, whistleblowers have been behind important inspector general investigations into mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, safety issues left unaddressed at the Federal Aviation Administration, inappropriate travel expenses incurred by agency officials and many more.
“Every year we get bigger. Our whistleblower community is growing. Our supporters are growing,” said Jane Turner, the event’s master of ceremonies and a whistleblower herself.
“We are determined to seek justice if not only for ourselves but for others. We might not reach justice — and some of us have not — but we are all reaching for something bigger than ourselves.”
But Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said that he found it a “revelation” when he joined Congress and discovered how prevalent whistleblower retaliation is in the federal government.
“They are dedicated federal employees or dedicated citizens of the United States. The least they can expect is that people hear them out and that they won’t be retaliated against if and when they bring an issue to the front,” said Johnson.
“Whistleblowers save lives. And If you’re a whistleblower, you have to understand: don’t be quiet.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., attributed some of the challenges and hardships that whistleblowers face today to the political environment that has increased the burden of proof for these employees.
“The challenges of standing up and speaking out have never been greater. Being a whistleblower has never been an easy road to travel, but my take is there was a period when it wasn’t quite so tough,” said Wyden.
“Today our country lives in an environment where facts are routinely dismissed as fake news. The currency of whistleblowing has always been facts. When facts are dismissed as fake news, it devalues that currency.”