The more things change, the more whistleblowers still don’t have protections worth a shit. President Trump is waging a war on whistleblowers — about the only thing he’s doing that isn’t the polar opposite of his predecessor. For three straight presidencies, government employees seeking to report wrongdoing and misconduct have been shut down, ignored, and retaliated against, despite periodic protections being erected by legislators.
The Defense Department’s watchdog made it clear during recent testimony that things are no better at the agencies he oversees. Eric Katz of Government Executive has more details.
Officials at the Defense Department are not taking action when the inspector general validates allegations of whistleblower reprisal, Glenn Fine, who is currently performing the duties of the Pentagon’s IG, told a panel of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He called it critical that management take prompt remedial action and called on Congress to take action when the department fails to do so.
“Recently, we’ve seen a disturbing trend of the [Defense Department] disagreeing with the results of our investigation or not taking disciplinary action in whistleblower reprisal cases without adequate or persuasive explanations,” Fine said. “Failure to take action sends a message to agency managers that reprisal will be tolerated and also to potential whistleblowers [that they] will not be protected.”
Since no one really wants to protect whistleblowers, whistleblowers aren’t being protected. Fine may want to protect whistleblowers, but his hands are tied. He can accept reports and pass them on, but he can’t do anything meaningful to deter reprisal because his powers are (purposefully) limited and the protections paper-thin. He can only hope his oversight — Congress — takes this issue as seriously as he does.
But it seems unlikely Congress will help. The President himself has threatened the whistleblower who reported Trump’s inappropriate phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky. Other legislators have made similar statements, expressing their displeasure with anyone who would insinuate their president is anything but an upstanding example for all Americans.
The chilling effect of these statements and actions is real.
A recent Government Executive survey found one-in-three federal employees are now less likely to report wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities due to attacks by Trump and congressional Republicans on the whistleblower whose filing kicked off the impeachment proceedings. Another 16% said they are now more likely to blow the whistle.
More than 50 Inspector Generals signed a letter condemning the White House Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion that it’s cool and legal to unilaterally block whistleblower reports. But this — and Fine’s statements — are being lobbed into a highly-unreceptive atmosphere. This administration doesn’t want to hear the shrill, nonstop sound of dozens of blown whistles… no more than the last one did. A threatened whistleblower is a silenced whistleblower and for far too many government agencies — and the legislators that oversee them — no news is the best news. Is it any wonder so many whistleblowers opt out of this corrupted system?
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