Grassley Op-ed: We need whistleblowers for good government
We need whistleblowers for good government
By Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
The first whistleblower law was unanimously passed by the Continental Congress on July 30, 1778. It stated in part “that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information of wrongdoing to Congress or other proper authority of misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”
Even at the founding of this nation, the importance of whistleblowers was clear. Since then, oversight has remained one of the most important responsibilities of the legislative branch. The Constitution requires it. The public also has a right to know what their government is doing and how it’s spending their tax dollars. Without oversight, members of Congress can’t legislate in the best interests of their constituents or ensure the government is accountable to taxpayers.
Whistleblowers play a critical part in Congress’s oversight efforts. They courageously raise their hands and disclose waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, and all sorts of misconduct.
A recent example was a brave whistleblower at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He contacted me after he was put on administrative leave for more than a year and kept from running an addiction treatment program for veterans. His only “mistake” was to point out the poor treatment of suicidal veterans at his facility. After a concerted effort by my office, my colleague Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, and the Office of Special Counsel, that whistleblower was restored to his position within the VA.
While chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I also heard from whistleblowers at the Department of Homeland Security. They came forward to raise awareness on how smugglers prey on unaccompanied minors and migrants. One whistleblower told my office that the Department of Health and Human Services was not conducting thorough background checks on sponsors before it took custody of children. Thanks to that whistleblower, now all sponsors, and those living with sponsors, are fingerprinted before they can bring a child home. That same whistleblower reported a dangerous tactic used by smugglers to pair kids with unrelated adults to create the appearance of family units. Smugglers would use kids like pawns in an effort to help adults avoid detention when coming across the border. Now, U.S. government officials are working with their counterparts in Mexico to investigate and crack down on this terrible practice to help protect children.
These are just a couple of examples of many in which whistleblowers have played a critical role in assisting Congress with oversight efforts. However, due to the personal risk whistleblowers face, potential whistleblowers are often afraid to come forward with important information. That’s why in 1986, I authored amendments to the False Claims Act to encourage whistleblowers to report waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs. Because of those amendments and efforts to strengthen this important law, whistleblowers have been empowered to help the government fight fraud. Over the course of my Judiciary chairmanship, the government recovered $17 billion under the False Claims Act, largely thanks to whistleblowers. That makes $56 billion in total recovery since I authored the updated provisions in 1986.
Earlier this year, I introduced a resolution designating July 30, 2019, as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, as I’ve done for the last several years. Whistleblowers’ contributions to our country often go unnoticed and underappreciated. However, they’re significant in helping Congress root out misconduct in the federal government and protect taxpayer dollars. I, along with my congressional colleagues and the American public, owe a debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens who are willing to stand up for what’s right despite the personal consequences they may face. Their efforts should never be overlooked or taken for granted.