Prepared Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
At a Whistleblower Appreciation Day Luncheon
July 27, 2017
Today is about the whistleblowers.
There is a lot of debate about what whistleblowers are, and what they are not. I believe whistleblowers are patriots and heroes. A lot of them don’t ever intend to blow the whistle.
They don’t ignore the law, or set out to make a lot of money or become famous. The vast majority will never be publicly known.
They are just ordinary people like you and me, who see something wrong and want to fix it. Nobody is perfect—people and organizations make mistakes, waste money, or even break the law. When you see that kind of fraud, waste, and abuse, you have a choice. You can go along to get along or you can speak up.
The whistleblowers are the ones who speak up. For that, they’re treated like skunks at a picnic. Whistleblowers are harassed, fired, and blacklisted. Their careers, relationships, and health can all suffer as a result. However, their retaliators often go unpunished. This creates an environment of fear that discourages employees from raising problems.
A law enforcement officer told me recently that his agency’s recruits say they are more afraid of crossing managers than dying in the line of duty. That kind of fear-based culture is not only unacceptable, it is very shortsighted.
Whistleblowers are the ones who tell you what’s broken, so you can fix it. Thanks largely to whistleblowers, the Government has recovered more than $53 billion in taxpayer money lost to fraud under the False Claims Act. That will get you to the moon and back 72 times.
Thanks to SEC and IRS whistleblowers, we have recovered more than $580 million lost to corporate fraud and $3.4 billion stolen by tax cheats.
Thanks to FBI whistleblowers like Fred Whitehurst and Jane Turner, we learned about shoddy work by the FBI crime lab and agents’ theft of “souvenirs” from the World Trade Center.
Thanks to DHS whistleblowers, we know that faulty immigration policies and poor data collection have allowed vulnerable migrant children to be placed in the homes of sponsors with criminal records.
Thanks to VA whistleblowers we learned that thousands of veterans in my home state of Iowa have been waiting anywhere from 90 days to 1-2 years just to see a doctor.
Thanks to Marshals Service employees, more than 2,000 Deputy U.S. Marshals should be spared from wearing expired body armor by Christmas. We also learned that, as the agency works to finally replace the armor, it refuses to tell deputies that its own 2013 study showed the expired gear has a 13% failure rate.
Whistleblowers have exposed waste, fraud, and abuse in just about every industry and agency in this country. The issues they report can involve millions and even billions of taxpayer dollars. They can also literally be matters of life and death.
We owe a great debt to you—the whistleblowers. We have a responsibility to follow your example and keep fighting for responsible business and accountable government. Congress needs to reauthorize the Office of Special Counsel and the Ombudsman programs at the offices of the Inspectors General. We need to improve whistleblower protections for FBI employees and IRS whistleblowers.
Congress also has to do its constitutional duty to conduct robust oversight of the Executive Branch. That includes oversight of matters whistleblowers report, and how agencies treat the whistleblowers. Many agency policies, like corporate compliance programs, are great on paper but lousy in practice. For example, agencies often use misconduct investigations to retaliate against whistleblowers. I am asking the Government Accountability Office to review practices for investigating employee misconduct in two law enforcement components under my committee’s jurisdiction.
The other two branches need to do their parts, too. The Supreme Court will review the SEC whistleblower program in their next term. The Court should follow Congress’ intent to protect whistleblowers who report wrongdoing either to their management or to the SEC.
Whistleblowers know the best place to take their information, within the bounds of the law.
The Executive Branch aggressively pursues waste, fraud, and abuse in the private sector, and it should continue those robust efforts. It should work even harder to apply the same high standards to its own conduct. Employers need to build a culture of integrity, where employees are not afraid to raise concerns.
Finally, we have got to publicly recognize the contributions of whistleblowers.
I have asked every President since Ronald Reagan to hold a Rose Garden Ceremony honoring whistleblowers. Not one of them has taken me up on my call to honor these truth tellers. Fortunately, my colleagues have. This year’s Whistleblower Appreciation Day resolution is sponsored by the entire Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, as well as the Ranking Member on my committee, Sen. Feinstein.
As it has the last 5 years, I expect the resolution to pass unanimously. Whistleblowers, whether your efforts are publicly known or safely anonymous, we are grateful.