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Whistleblowers pump up transparency

May 9, 2014
Senator Chuck Grassley , Traer Star-Clipper

No matter how good the laws are written or how well-intentioned public policies are prescribed, Uncle Sam's coffers have long been viewed as open season for bad operators who look to line their own pockets on the taxpayer's dime.

Unfortunately, unaccountable and complex payments systems within the federal bureaucracy are like ducks on a pond for unscrupulous operators trolling big-budget defense and health care contracts, for example. Plenty of crooked figures have found a way to pluck Uncle Sam's goose.

Fortunately, conscientious insiders working in the trenches of the federal bureaucracy have blown the whistle on dodgy gimmicks that take the taxpaying public for a ride, such as illegal kickbacks in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. At the same time, citizens in the private sector who report tax dodgers benefit law-abiding taxpayers who otherwise are forced to shoulder a greater tax burden.

Rousting wrongdoers from the shadows into the light of day is a courageous act of civic duty. Whistleblowers deserve a place of honor and gratitude in the public eye. In fact, I've called upon this White House and previous administrations to hold a Rose Garden ceremony honoring these unsung heroes. Last summer, I introduced a Senate resolution that would observe National Whistleblower Day on the anniversary of the nation's first-ever whistleblower protection laws enacted on July 30, 1778.

Far from receiving praise and admiration, whistleblowers typically are treated like skunks at a Sunday afternoon picnic. Those with the courage to come forward to tell the truth often face retribution and reprisals. They put their careers and paychecks on the line and face great uncertainty with endless investigations to sort out the facts.

Considering these substantial sacrifices, policymakers need to help create a culture that welcomes and protects those who come forward to report wrongful activity that puts public safety in harm's way, fleeces taxpayers and diverts scarce public resources into the wrong hands.

For the last three decades, I have championed bipartisan, bicameral laws that create incentives for whistleblowers and remove bureaucratic barriers that block them from reporting what they know, including:

1986 whistleblower updates to the False Claims Act. This unique anti-fraud tool has proven itself instrumental in recovering nearly $40 billion for taxpayers that otherwise would have been lost to fraud;

Whistleblower Protection Act, signed into law on April 10, 1989, and updated in 2012 to permanently prohibit "non-disclosure agreements," a personnel practice that muzzles employees from sharing information with Congress and internal investigators;

2006 reforms of the IRS whistleblower program that targets high-income tax fraud and strengthens monetary incentives for those who report high-dollar tax evasion; and,

2009 Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act that restores the scope and applicability of the False Claims Act that had been diluted by recent court decisions and beefs up criminal laws to help prosecute mortgage and securities fraud.

It's this simple. Whistleblowers shouldn't be wronged for trying to make things right. That's why I am leading an effort in the United States Senate to create a Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus. We can pass anti-fraud and whistleblower protection laws until the cows come home. But if we don't watch over the enforcement and execution of these laws, rustlers will continue to feed at the public trough.

No matter which political party controls the White House, the federal bureaucracy tends to circle the wagons when it comes to congressional oversight. In fact, it appears that most federal agencies bend over backwards to shoot the messenger through continued use of "non-disclosure agreements" despite the 18-month-old law that explicitly prohibits them.

This reflects an embarrassingly weak effort by the administration that promised to have "unprecedented" transparency. Transparency changes behavior. Considering the sweeping health care and surveillance policies being implemented under this administration's watch that are significantly increasing the size and scope of the federal government, America needs more transparency, not less.

Let's give thanks to the legion of individual whistleblowers whose good works have exposed wrongdoing across-the-board, from the Pentagon, to the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the IRS, the Interior Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, just to name a few.

Instead of turning a blind eye to the good works of whistleblowers, the top dogs in the executive branch need to learn a lesson. Treating a whistleblower like a skunk at a picnic only worsens the smell of waste, fraud, mismanagement and abuse.

As another Tax Day comes and goes, taxpayers are tired of standing downwind from a bureaucratic culture that allows fraud to go unreported.

 
 

 

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