How the law barely protects whistleblowers

Whistleblowers who hold public servants to account are protected by law — but they often suffer consequences anyway. Here’s everything you need to know:

What’s a whistleblower?
It’s a government employee who reports fraud, waste, crimes, or threats to public safety. The origin of the term is uncertain, but it’s probably a reference to policemen or referees who blow whistles when they see a crime or foul play. As far back as 1778, the Founding Fathers called reporting official misconduct a “duty,” commending 10 sailors and Marines for alerting Congress to the Navy’s abuse of British prisoners. But the term “whistleblower” wasn’t applied to this kind of truth telling until the 1970s. It was during that tumultuous decade that military analyst Daniel Ellsberg disclosed the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the Vietnam War’s false premises. A year later, The Washington Post broke the Watergate scandal, thanks to leaks from “Deep Throat” (who turned out to be disgruntled FBI Associate Director Mark Felt). To encourage such truth tellers to come forward, Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, which outlined a process for federal employees to report misconduct and challenge retaliation they might face for doing so. Despite that law, whistleblowers often pay a steep price for reporting misdeeds by superiors, said Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan organization. “One has to go in with the assumption,” she said, “that it’s career suicide.”

What safeguards exist?
Federal law protects whistleblowers from being fired, demoted, or reassigned as a form of punishment. But those protections are void if whistleblowers fail to follow protocol and file their complaint through official channels — generally, with a federal agency’s inspector general. Among those who did not qualify for whistleblower status are Chelsea Manning, who disclosed a massive trove of military …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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