Tag Archives: Whistleblower protection

Stay Informed At The Center For Defense Information

Pentagon Bills – Photo by POGO


The goal of the Center for Defense Information (CDI)  is to secure far more effective and ethical military forces at significantly lower cost by seeking to achieve the elusive goal of meaningful Pentagon reform by fostering a fundamentally better informed public.”


“Questions such as the size and nature of the defense budget, especially its many offenses to the American taxpayer, a Congress more inclined to perform real oversight—rather than the pretense, and affordable, effective weapons that service the needs of the men and women in our armed forces—rather than the gluttony of selfish elements of corporations and a dysfunctional political system.

CDI has also sought to probe the origins and costs—human and material—of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere so that such tragedies can be avoided in the future. “


Inspector General Community Launches New Online Reporting Tool For Whistle Blowers



“The new page, which CIGIE launched on National Whistle blower Appreciation Day, includes resources for whistle blowers about their rights, as well as a detailed walk-through of the process for reporting waste, fraud and abuse at individual agencies.

It also directs whistle blowers to the appropriate inspector general hotline — or the Office of Special Counsel’s disclosure unit and Government Accountability Office’s FraudNet portal.


“Federal whistle blowers have a little more guidance and direction now from the inspector general community to report the waste, fraud and abuse they see at their agencies.

The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) this week launched a new feature on Oversight.gov, the publicly searchable website of all reports and updates from agency inspectors general.

“What we tried to do over the past year or so was think about how we could deliver more information to insiders, to whistleblowers, to come forward [and] report to the IG community on waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct, so that we can help make government more effective and efficient and root out wrongdoing,” Michael Horowitz, Justice Department inspector general and CIGIE chairman, told a group of whistleblowers Tuesday at an annual celebratory lunch on Capitol Hill.

The idea is to get the word out to the federal workforce, Horowitz said, to inform whistleblowers about their rights and encourage them to come forward.

Securing the funding to develop the new whistleblower landing page was a challenge, Horowitz said. Sen. James Lankford, former chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, championed the funding for this project in the fiscal 2019 spending omnibus, Horowitz said.

“The inspectors general and the whistleblowers and the folks who are actually engaged in this ongoing work… are the ones making the difference,” Lankford said. “We’re just trying to facilitate that communication and to make sure that everyone both knows that this is not legal behavior or sees it and has the opportunity to say, ‘where would I go to be able to report this?’”

The current site is a “beta” test, CIGIE hopes to the build out the site further with additional resources, Horowitz said. The next steps, however, are dependent on whether the council can secure new appropriations from Congress.

“We’re looking for you to tell us what else we can do to build that site out,” he said.”

Congress Not Allowing Pentagon Funding Cut For JASON – An Elite Independent Scientific Overseer Group


Illustration by POGO


“For those not deep into Pentagon intrigue, JASON is a low-profile group of physicists and other patriotic eggheads that has quietly whispered wisdom into the Defense Department’s ear for the past 60 years.

While the group’s focus is the military’s use of science and technology, it also investigates climate change and other non-military topics. You can glean a sense of the breadth of JASON’s work by reviewing a list of its unclassified reports assembled by the Federation of American Scientists. ”


“Back in 1967, members of a secretive government advisory panel of scientists known as JASON started getting nervous as the Vietnam War ground into a stalemate. Its members were alarmed by U.S. war games (conducted by “independent” outsiders like the RAND Corp.) that concluded that nuclear weapons might help tilt the conflict in favor of South Vietnam and its ally, the United States. A top-ranking military officer (within earshot of a Jason, as members of the group are informally known) joined in the rhetoric: “It might be a good idea to toss in a nuke from time to time, just to keep the other side guessing.”

This was enough to electrify some Jasons into producing a secret report, declassified in 2002, showing such thinking was atomic hogwash. “To the extent of my personal knowledge, the talk of using nuclear weapons in that war stopped after the JASON report on the subject,” Seymour Deitchman, who spent 28 years at the federal government’s Institute for Defense Analyses, said in 2003.

So go figure that, after performing for decades what insiders say is critical work, the Pentagon tried to order these mad scientists out of business by cancelling their long-standing Defense Department contract in March. But not to fear, at least not yet: After Congressional criticism of the proposed termination, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) stepped in on April 25 to keep funding flowing to the JASON program, at least through January.

“NNSA and other agencies have critical national security support studies that JASON is performing or scheduled to perform this year,” NNSA said in explaining its decision. “A gap in coverage that the current contract provides could be harmful to the completion of these studies.”

The news that JASON’s days may be numbered set off alarms inside the military-inquiry complex. “The abrupt, unilateral decision to not renew the long-standing JASON contract damages our national security by depriving not only the Pentagon, but also other national security agencies, of sober and sound advice in confronting some of the nation’s most complex threats,” said Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN), chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee—the panel that deals with nuclear weapons. His view counts because JASON has several studies underway for NNSA, which is championing the Trump Administration’s push to spend $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years on nuclear weapon modernization efforts.

For those not deep into Pentagon intrigue, JASON is a low-profile group of physicists and other patriotic eggheads that has quietly whispered wisdom into the Defense Department’s ear for the past 60 years. While the group’s focus is the military’s use of science and technology, it also investigates climate change and other non-military topics. You can glean a sense of the breadth of JASON’s work by reviewing a list of its unclassified reports assembled by the Federation of American Scientists. They include military topics like the technical risks facing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and the Pentagon’s possible future use of artificial intelligence and the human genome. There also are non-military studies into subjects like cheap nuclear power and the impact of solar storms on the electrical grid.

The Defense Department said it made “economic sense” to shutter the shop, which has been costing taxpayers about $7 million a year. But the NNSA, which has JASON producing three studies this year (on cyber-security, the detection of nuclear detonation, and plutonium aging), sees value in JASON’s work. “I found their reports to be fulsome and the members of JASON to be knowledgeable about issues associated with our programs at NNSA,” agency head Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told Congress on April 11.

Regardless of which branch on the federal tree is footing the bill, it’s important to keep that $7 million in perspective. The Pentagon, with a $700 billion budget this year, spends about $7 million every six minutes. “We certainly are a bargain,” says Russell Hemley, JASON’s chair and a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Pentagon does “need a JASON-type organization, and many people believe that,” he continued.

Jasons and people working closely with the group were gob-smacked that its full-fledged services were apparently no longer needed, at least by the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “I had no insight this was coming—it was a surprise,” Hemley says. The Pentagon and others are free to ignore JASON’s recommendations, but their expertise often carries an influence and a power of its own. “We are a completely independent body” not beholden to the military services or defense contractors, he adds.

The research office had been underwriting JASON’s work for the past 17 years. JASON members give up their summers to conduct serious studies for the nation, and take no public credit for it (no one acknowledges their JASON membership except for Hemley, who is the group’s chair, and Vice-Chair Ellen Williams, a professor specializing in chemistry and nanotechnology at the University of Maryland). “They’re doing vital work for the country, instead of enhancing their own career with public research,” one said.

JASON was born in 1959 over post-Sputnik concerns that the Soviet Union was eclipsing the United States in military know-how. After the glory of the Manhattan Project’s atomic bomb, the military felt a need for fresh thinking (but no, JASON doesn’t stand for “Junior Achiever, Somewhat Older Now,” as Pentagon lore has it). There are currently about 40 Jasons producing about 12 to 15 reports a year.

JASON usually meets annually for summer studies to probe the Pentagon’s technical underbelly and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down (and no, given their annual timetable, their name also doesn’t stand for “July August September October November”). JASON actually is named for the leader of the Argonauts who sought the Golden Fleece in Greek mythology. Mildred Goldberger, wife of Marvin Goldberger, one of the original Jasons, came up with the name because she deemed the Pentagon’s “Project Sunrise” too bland.

In a letter to the Washington Post on April 19, the former top arms-control aide at the State Department during the Clinton Administration praised JASON’s bang for the buck. Peter Zimmerman said he spent $20,000 hiring JASON to review a proposal to build a “hafnium” bomb. Its backers said it would “pack the power of a small atomic bomb into a hand-grenade-size weapon.” JASON’s response was straightforward: “Several of the United States’ most distinguished scientists had found fatal flaws in the idea,” Zimmerman wrote. Soon thereafter, Congress killed the program, “saving at least tens of millions of dollars, far more than the entire JASON budget for the year.”

JASON has dodged a bullet like this before. In 2002, it got into a spat with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), its Pentagon overseer at the time. DARPA wanted to appoint three new JASON members, a decision the Jasons had long reserved for themselves. After a public squabble, the Pentagon shifted funding for the Jasons from DARPA to the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. That office “is believed to be the driving force behind last month’s decision” to terminate funding, Sciencemagazine reported on April 9.

There are echoes in JASON’s threatened demise of an executive branch that isn’t keen on second-guessing. For example, the Navy recently decided to abolish its Naval Research Advisory Committee after 73 years. And the key investigator scrutinizing the $100 billion the United States has spent rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan is finding that the data he needs to do his job is becoming increasingly stealthy. “What we are finding is now almost every indicia, metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, complained on April 24.

But Hemley won’t go there. JASON has had “remarkable stability” working for the U.S. military for six decades, he says, “regardless of the politics of the day, or the administration in power.” He refrains from suggesting JASON’s possible demise is due to any Trump Administration anti-scientific bias. “We’re at a very delicate time,” one Jason says by way of explanation.

So even though the Jasons may have gotten a stay of execution, their days still could be numbered. In that case, we’ll just have to hope that the next time there’s loose talk about using nuclear weapons, there’s another hardy band of anonymous heroes willing to apply the brakes.”


Key Intel Whistleblower Official Fired as Spy Agencies Face Oversight Crisis


Whistle Blower


“The firing of Dan Meyer, who led the Whistleblowing and Source Protection Program at the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General, or IC IG, may have wide repercussions.

 It’s now not clear who, if anyone, is doing his job.”

“The lead staffer dedicated to protecting Intelligence Community employees who internally report misconduct was terminated earlier this month, despite protests from Senators and the whistleblower advocacy community, Government Executive reported last week.

He was forced out of the pivotal job at a time when whistleblowers may already be wary of trusting that their jobs will be safe due to allegations of misconduct involving the handling of whistleblower complaints by inspectors general in other intelligence agencies. It’s now not clear who, if anyone, is doing his job.

The exact cause of Meyer’s ouster remains murky. For years, he led outreach and education campaigns highlighting proper disclosure channels and whistleblower protections to employees across U.S. intelligence agencies under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or ODNI—a complicated gig in a covert world paranoid about leaks. In fact, Meyer even lodged his own complaint at one point, alleging he was punished for disclosing misconduct earlier in his career while working at the Defense Department Office of Inspector General.

By last fall, trouble was brewing for Meyer again.

He was essentially banned from actually doing his job, Foreign Policy reported in October:

Meyer, whose job is to talk to intelligence community whistleblowers, can no longer talk to whistleblowers. He has been barred from communicating with whistleblowers, the main responsibility of his job as the executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing and source protection. He is currently working on an instructional pamphlet for whistleblowers, and he will have no duties to perform after he’s completed that work.

He can also no longer brief the agencies or the congressional committees on his work as he’s done in the past, send out his whistleblower newsletter, or conduct outreach. And he has no deputy or staff.

Then in November, Meyer was suspended and escorted out of the building while his office was “sealed off with crime-scene tape,” according to Government Executive. 

Meyer maintains this was retaliation against him for blowing the whistle again. In a January statement, Meyer said that he had received a poor performance review and was accused of “security infractions” after raising concerns about a “systematic failure” to implement whistleblower protections required by an Obama-era presidential policy directive.

However, Meyer said, even he ultimately remains unclear on the exact claims against him.  “Unfortunately, during the three months of hearings and appeals regarding my case, I was not permitted to see the materials serving as a basis for termination,” Meyer told POGO in an emailed statement.

His position was left without key protections against retaliation because he remained categorized as a probationary employee due to an error by the previous management of the office, Meyer told POGO. “No whistleblowing advocate managing a program with integrity can serve in such a status, especially if it handles internal and external allegations against senior officials,” he said.

In a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats—whose office houses the Intelligence Community Inspector General—earlier this month, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) stated that Meyer “was terminated in a process marked by procedural irregularities and serious conflicts of interest” while the agency’s acting leadership “demonstrated a lack of support for the critical whistleblower protection mission of the office.”

The Senators asked that Meyer’s termination be stayed pending the confirmation of Michael Atkinson, the IC IG nominee who is awaiting action by the full Senate. The Project On Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project also weighed in with a letter asking that a final decision on Meyer’s employment wait until after Atkinson’s confirmation process.

Last week, Grassley went on the Congressional Record with his intent to hold up the Administration’s pick for ODNI General Counsel until the agency answers questions about Meyer’s situation. Grassley previously threatened the hold in a November letter. The letter requested the agency preserve and secure potentially sensitive information about ongoing whistleblower retaliation investigations left in Meyer’s office when he was put on leave and to provide Grassley’s staff with all documents about the personnel action against Meyer. The agency never responded to Grassley’s requests, according to the Senator’s statement last week.

In response to inquiries about Meyer, an ODNI spokesperson told Government Executive that the agency does not comment on personnel matters but that “ODNI and the IC IG adhere to all applicable laws and policy in all personnel decisions. Any allegations to the contrary are false.”

In an emailed statement to POGO, IC IG spokesperson Monica Tullos said that the watchdog agency “recognizes the value and accountability strong whistleblowing programs bring to good governance.” However, Tullos would not comment on who is currently leading the Intelligence Community’s Whistleblowing and Source Protection Program.

The gap left by Meyer’s ouster is particularly troubling because whistleblower retaliation concerns are so pervasive in the U.S. intelligence community that they even have infected the offices that are supposed to be a safe haven for those who report abuse.

In 2016, POGO first reported that the National Security Agency’s then-Inspector General, George Ellard, was placed on leave after a review panel composed of three inspectors general determined he had retaliated against a whistleblower. (Another review found Ellard did not retaliate; he still works at NSA in a different role.) In another case, the acting CIA Inspector General appears to have misled Congress about pending reprisals claims against him in his own confirmation hearing; news of those claims was initially reported by POGO. The Inspector General Office at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military’s primary spy shop, is also reportedly in chaos.

An internal review by the IC IG, first reported by POGO last year, found widespread problems with how IGs within the intelligence world respond to complaints about whistleblower reprisal and retaliation. That analysis was quashed, The Daily Beastrecently reported, after leadership discovered that one of the investigators working on it was himself a CIA whistleblower suing the agency for retaliating against him

In a January confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Atkinson faced stiff questions about what he would do to protect whistleblowers in the role—and he appeared to acknowledge there was plenty of work to do.

“My first objective as Inspector General, if confirmed, will be to make sure the IC IG’s house is in order,” Atkinson told the Committee. “This will involve making sure the right people are in the IC IG, with the proper values, discipline, and work ethic. A natural corollary will be to get any of the wrong people out of the IC IG. I am confident there are right people for the IC IG already there, and I hope they stay.”






Former Whistleblower Starts Legal Aid Group to Guide Would-Be Tipsters



Image: Corruptionwatchconnected.org


“John N. Tye wants to make it easier to expose government wrongdoing without getting fired or breaking the law.

Whistleblowing can be a challenge for people who have taken an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”

 September 18 at 6:00 AM
“In a city filled with leakers, congressional committees with subpoena powers and investigative reporters, John N. Tye wants to make it easier to expose government wrongdoing without getting fired or breaking the law.Tye, a former State Department whistleblower, and lawyer Mark S. Zaid have formed Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit law office to help would-be tipsters in the government and the military navigate the bureaucratic and legal morass involved in reporting governmental misdeeds.

Whistleblowing can be a challenge for people who have taken an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, Tye said in a telephone interview.

“Then you get into government and you see something wrong,” he said. “You’ve sworn to stop it, but there aren’t a lot of tools at your disposal, especially if it’s your supervisor who’s breaking the law. People are scared. They’re worried about their jobs. If it involves classified information, they can be criminally prosecuted.”

Tye’s interest in whistleblowing came from a stint as section chief for Internet freedom in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, from 2011 to 2014. He came forward as a whistleblower to publicize the government’s electronic surveillance practices. He wrote about it in 2014 in a Washington Post opinion piece that he submitted to the State Department for approval. His quest to air his concerns cost him $13,000 in legal fees.

It is not entirely coincidental that Whistleblower Aid is being launched during the presidency of Donald Trump, whose 2016 campaign is under investigation for contacts with Russians.

“We want to advise people what to do, whether it’s going to Congress, or an inspector general or Robert Mueller,” Tye said when asked about the timing, referring to the general counsel handling the investigation.

“This is not a partisan effort,” he added. “At the same time, yes, the rule of law starts with the office of the president. Like many other people, we are definitely concerned about things that are happening in the administration. The decision to fire [FBI Director] James Comey. The lack of transparency. A lot of people have questions about whether this administration respects the rule of law.”

Tye says he will never divulge classified information he learned while at the State Department. If a whistleblower comes to Whistleblower Aid with classified information, he or she will be steered to investigators with security clearances and the power to do something about it.

We’re not WikiLeaks,” Tye said.

“We provide legal advice and information to people who have sensitive information and want to explore their lawful options. We’re not advising anyone how to leak anything.”

Clients seeking that advice will not be charged. The firm is seeking donations from foundations and crowdsource funding to cover expenses.

Starting Monday, the start-up will be blitzing Washington to publicize its services with ads on Metro trains. It will have people on street corners handing out branded whistles. And throughout the week, two mobile billboards advertising Whistleblower Aid will spend 10 hours a day circling the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Agency to try to attract clients.

The organization has a website, whistlebloweraid.org. But contacting it takes some forensic skills. To maintain security, it won’t accept phone calls, text messages or emails, because someone in the government could be surveilling communication.

Instead, to reach someone at the organization, it’s necessary to install a special Tor browser that allows access to an encrypted, anonymous part of the Internet. Whistleblowers.org has two encrypted sites there.”


2011 “Insider Threat Program” in Jeopardy Under Justice Deparment Whistle Blower Investigations?


Sott dot Net Whistleblower

Image: Scott.Net


“It is important to note that when information is not classified or otherwise specifically barred by statute from disclosure, most federal employees are protected for disclosing wrongdoing to the media. [under the Insider Threat Program in place since 2011].

POGO has worked for decades to ensure that whistleblowers are afforded strong protections when reporting through proper channels and urge the White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct these investigations with a firm commitment to not target, discourage, or detect legally protected whistleblowing in the process. This commitment is written into the Executive Order creating the Insider Threat Program, and must be adhered to. It is also important to note, that when information is not classified or otherwise specifically barred by statute from disclosure, most federal employees are protected for disclosing wrongdoing to the media.

POGO’s Danielle Brian issued the comment below:

“Whistleblowers are the nation’s first line of defense against fraud, waste, abuse, and illegality within the federal government, the last thing this administration wants to do is to deter whistleblowing in an effort to stymie leaks. This administration must carefully tailor the parameters for this investigation with this important consideration in mind. While I appreciate the distinction between whistleblowers and leakers at today’s press conference, the commitment to strong whistleblower protections must be more than just lip service.

In the public discourse, the lines regularly become blurred between leaking and whistleblowing. While not all leaks are whistleblowing disclosures, it is often impossible to distinguish between the two activities without understanding all the facts in each instance. It is especially difficult when discussing ‘leaks’ of unclassified information.

Whistleblowers will be allies to this administration if the White House embraces them and their disclosures, which often are an early warning system that can spotlight problems before they metastasize. Such disclosure help save taxpayer dollars, prevent loss of life, and curb abuses. Overzealous investigations will chill legitimate whistleblowing and drive whistleblowers away from proper government channels to the press. ”

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.”




Whistleblower Hotlines: A Valuable Tool



Photo: iStock


“An effective ethics reporting tool, implemented as part of an ethics and compliance program, can help an organization detect and resolve potential misconduct issues.

It can also help support a culture of integrity and responsibility within the workplace.

Misconduct in the workplace can be devastating. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ “2016 Report to the Nations” estimates that, on average, organizations lose 5 percent of revenue per year due to fraud and other misconduct.

Many organizations have implemented active and deliberate misconduct-detection processes. “Active” means that a person, or an internal control method, has been put in place and is instrumental in looking for fraud and other misconduct. Compare that to “passive” detection, in which the organization learns of unethical activity only after the fact or by accident.

How does an ethics reporting tool, such as a whistleblower hotline, fit in? It could be labeled a “passive” tool because fraud or other misconduct is often reported after it has happened. However, an ethics reporting tool can help to shed light earlier on misconduct that might otherwise continue for any length of time and cause more damage.

Knowing about misconduct sooner enables an organization to put a stop to it earlier. According to the report, the median duration of fraud prior to detection is about 18 months. For smaller organizations, early detection could mean the difference between surviving or going out of business.

A whistleblower hotline doesn’t just help bring fraud to the forefront. Other types of misconduct commonly reported using these systems are harassment, discrimination, workplace health and safety violations, alcohol/drug abuse, violence in the workplace, and conflicts of interest — to name a few.

Once an ethics program has been implemented, it needs to engage every employee, from the top down. It can’t just exist as window dressing.

Senior management needs to be committed to the ethics program and sincere about sharing their commitment with employees. Employees learn acceptable workplace behavior by taking cues from leadership. If management doesn’t believe in the ethics program and model leading with integrity themselves, employees are not likely to use the reporting tool to report any unethical conduct.

Employees may also be skeptical about coming forward to report perceived misconduct. Many people are concerned that even if they do make a report, no corrective action will be taken. But the biggest fear for employees is retaliation by co-workers and management. Ethics program best practices, as well as regulatory standards, call for ethics hotlines to ensure confidentiality for employees who report concerns and offer the option for anonymity.

External third-party ethics hotlines, which often include a case management database, can help. Third-party programs provide the ability for management and the reporter to communicate with each other about the allegation securely, within the system, enabling management to gather more information while protecting the whistleblower’s identity. This ensures a more thorough investigation of the alleged misconduct, getting to the bottom of any serious issues sooner, before they escalate.

Customizable third-party whistleblowing systems allow companies to create a program that is best suited to meet the needs of their organization, regardless of industry. They log and date stamp every report and allow management of each case to closure.

The ability to include a company’s national or global locations as part of the reporting process enables all incidents to be funneled into the one system in an organized manner.

Every industry has its own unique risk concerns and customizable third-party systems help management spot and track issues and trends, no matter the location, the department or the issue.

If they are not comfortable talking with their supervisor, a whistleblower wants to know where they can go to report ethical concerns and remain anonymous. An anonymous hotline removes many of the obstacles to reporting inappropriate behavior and gives employees, suppliers and vendors the ability to raise genuine concerns about illegal or unethical behavior.

Ethics hotlines also reduce the risk of individuals going outside the organization with their concerns, potentially damaging an organization’s reputation and causing further financial harm.

Every employee wants to know that his or her voice matters in the organization. That’s why encouraging a speak-up culture is important. Employees want to know they are part of the success of the company. Encouraging them to speak up about wrongdoing and showing them that their concerns do matter and are taken seriously creates more motivated employees who truly want to participate in the company’s future.

Many companies believe they are too small to warrant an ethics reporting system. There’s a belief that there’s too much complexity and work involved. But putting in extra upfront effort to set up a customizable program that is right for the company is well worth it when the result is more open communication, happier employees, reduced risk, and future growth and success.

When an organization implements a confidential and anonymous third-party ethics hotline, it lets employees and stakeholders know that it is serious about adherence to its code of conduct, it takes all reports of misconduct seriously, and it does not tolerate retaliation towards anybody reporting perceived misconduct.

If company leaders truly want to promote a speak-up culture, and give employees a safe place to come forward to report ethics and compliance concerns, then one of the best ways is to provide employees security and comfort of anonymity and confidentiality via a whistleblower hotline.”


Survivor’s Guide to Being a Successful Whistleblower




“Whistleblowers do a difficult thing.  However, the decision to blow the whistle can be immensely patriotic.

They often put their career and livelihood at risk standing up against their organization and disclosing information that may embarrass their colleagues and supervisors. It could save lives, defend our constitutional rights against government overreach, and help preserve our democracy.

But how do you blow the whistle and avoid retaliation? And if you end up facing reprisal from management, how do you maximize your chances of surviving professionally? This article aims to provide some general guidelines and practical considerations for federal employees who may ever consider making a disclosure of wrongdoing.

I recently left a government office that reviewed whistleblower disclosures and investigated complaints of retaliation, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). My current organization, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), was founded by Pentagon insiders concerned about the Department’s procurement of ineffective and overpriced weapons. Throughout POGO’s history we have served as a resource to federal whistleblowers and promoted improvements to better protect military, civilian, intelligence, and contractor whistleblowers. Employees at many agencies are concerned about this administration. Many people are reaching out to POGO for the first time to learn about how to safely and meaningfully disclose wrongdoing. This article is an on-ramp for understanding whistleblower protections and some of the practical risks many face in trying to do what is right.

A couple issues upfront: This article is geared toward most federal civilian employees in the executive branch under the framework of statutory whistleblower protections. However, the considerations discussed below generally apply to other types of employees too. And while there are similarities in legal protections and how whistleblower reprisal investigations work in the FBIintelligence communitycontractor, and military contexts, there are significant differences as well (including the fact that intelligence contractors do not have protections). Anyone thinking about blowing the whistle should strongly consider talking to experts at POGO, the Government Accountability Project, or Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The following is not legal advice—for that, seek the services of an attorney with relevant experience who can speak to your specific circumstances. For those seeking very in-depth legal information, please see Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner and Jason Zuckerman’s paper, “The U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s Role in Protecting Whistleblowers and Serving as a Safe Channel for Government Employees to Disclose Wrongdoing.” It extensively details the prohibition on whistleblower retaliation in the federal workforce, which is the eighth “prohibited personnel practice” under the relevant federal statute. 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8). Let’s turn to the fundamentals and practical concerns.

Whistleblower Reprisal Investigations – 101

First—What’s a protected whistleblower disclosure under the law? For federal employees, you are protected for disclosures where you have a reasonable belief of:

  • A violation of law, rule, or regulation (this includes the Constitution);
  • Gross mismanagement;
  • Gross waste of funds;
  • Abuse of authority;
  • Substantial and specific danger to public health and safety; or
  • Censorship related to scientific integrity that evidences one of the above categories.

Major caution: Policy disagreements themselves are not protected disclosures under whistleblower law, unless the employee reasonably believes that an executive branch policy creates one of the problems in the bullet points above (e.g. a disclosure about an Interior Department policy that will lead to $200 million in waste).

A whistleblower doesn’t have to be correct to be protected, but they do need to have a reasonable belief in what they’re disclosing. This is a relatively low legal bar. But, in practice, the more proof they can offer, the better. Documents trump verbal assertions, especially official documents. First-hand accounts made soon after an event are better than second-hand rumors long after the event occurred.

Thanks to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2012, whistleblowers are also protected now if they make lawful disclosures to their co-workers and supervisors even if they are implicated in the wrongdoing. This is particularly significant since most employees raise concerns internally first. The WPEA also clarified that federal employees don’t have to be the first to make a disclosure to receive protections, that their motive does not matter, and that the protections they receive can include disclosures made in the normal course of their job duties.

Some employees who would not have received protection before the WPEA now can. An OSC official recently testified before Congress that:

…a whistleblower in the Department of Treasury filed a complaint with OSC because of alleged retaliation he suffered after he reported to his supervisor that the supervisor had allowed improper expenses to be incurred by the agency. Prior to the WPEA, his disclosure would not have been deemed protected because it was made to a supervisor involved in the alleged wrongdoing. After the WPEA, however, OSC is able to pursue this case and has an active, ongoing investigation into the claim.

Most federal employees don’t set out to become whistleblowers or want to be known as one, they just want their serious concerns to be resolved internally. It’s important to emphasize that they’re protected under the law too, even if their situation doesn’t fit what we normally view as whistleblowing.

What’s the relationship between disclosure and reprisal?

The disclosure is the underlying wrongdoing on which an employee blew the whistle (such as the agency wasted millions of dollars) and reprisal is the personnel actions taken against that employee for blowing the whistle (such as the employee got fired by the agency after he disclosed that millions of dollars were wasted). Some individuals make disclosures and don’t face whistleblower reprisal. An employee can’t face whistleblower retaliation if they didn’t make a disclosure (the rare exceptions are perceived whistleblower cases when management wrongly suspects someone is a whistleblower—these non-whistleblowers can get protections too). For context, in the last major official study on the topic in 2010, about one-third of federal employees said they faced retaliation, to one degree or another, after being identified as making a disclosure.

Many entities can receive disclosures, but the main place for federal employees to seek relief if they are retaliated against is OSC. If the retaliation involves severe personnel actions such as suspensions of 14 or more days, demotions, or termination, employees can go directly to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which is a quasi-court in the executive branch for handling certain employment disputes. When an employee faces lesser employment actions—such as reprimands, suspensions shorter than 14 days, or a change of job duties—they must first go to OSC before having a right to appeal to MSPB. OSC will evaluate the complaint and, if OSC finds there is a basis to the retaliation claim, OSC will investigate or mediate the case. Individuals with retaliation complaints who go to OSC first can appeal with MSPB if OSC closes their case or after OSC has it for 120 days.

My personal view is, even with severe personnel actions, it may be worth it to go to OSC first since they may be able to facilitate a favorable outcome. Retaliation cases often contain a lot of gray area where negotiated settlements are the best way to resolve a case. If OSC’s process doesn’t yield a good outcome for the employee, they can appeal to the MSPB for a new review. However, it does not work the other way around. OSC does not generally review complaints if MSPB has already decided on the issue, since MSPB is OSC’s court of appeal.

It is worth consulting with a qualified attorney in order to file an effective retaliation complaint. In addition to OSC and MSPB, employees can also seek relief through a union’s grievance process. But it’s important to note that there are election of remedies issues in certain cases, meaning employees have to choose one venue—OSC, MSPB, or union process—to hear their concerns.

While MSPB and OSC are the executive branch agencies officially empowered to investigate and seek relief for federal employees, congressional offices often play a less official but powerful role in attempting to shield whistleblowers. For instance, Franz Gayl, a Marine Corps civilian scientist who blew the whistle on the lack of armored vehicles in Iraq, obtained relief by working with OSC, a number of Senate offices such as that of then-Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Kit Bond (R-MO), as well as GAP and POGO. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been a champion of whistleblowers for decades, and with two House Republicans he recently emphasized in a letter to President Trump the importance of whistleblowers. Congressional assistance is most powerful for whistleblowers when it is bipartisan.

What does a reprisal investigation look for?

An investigation seeks to answer four basic questions:

  • Did the person make a protected whistleblower disclosure?
  • Did they suffer from or were threatened with an adverse personnel action?
  • Did management know or suspect the person was the whistleblower?
  • Was there a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse personnel action?

Many retaliation investigations hinge on that last question. Some factors that may have to be examined are: Did management care about performance or conduct issues only after disclosures were made? If so, that may indicate retaliatory motive. How were other employees with the same performance or misconduct issues treated? If our whistleblower is facing harsher punishment than others with similar job performance problems, that could indicate retaliation. It is helpful for the whistleblower to be aware of these comparisons in documenting and building their case.


With the above established, what should an ethical federal employee consider when deciding whether to blow the whistle?

Talk to Your Partner

Would-be whistleblowers should discuss with their spouse or anyone else that might be drastically impacted by the professional consequences of whistleblowing. Move forward with eyes wide open, together.


The classic and often best method for protecting oneself is to stay anonymous as the source of a disclosure that may anger one’s management. This can be easier said than done.

The traceability of digital communications have created liabilities for employees wishing to stay anonymous. In response, a number of tools have been created that make it harder to establish the digital fingerprints on information communicated electronically. Right now, there are questions being raised about whether government employees communicating with these tools on official time or involving official business might violate federal records laws. The safest course for any employee may be to communicate on private time with a private device using one of these secure tools.

Low-tech means of making disclosures should also be considered and often are preferable. In-person meetings, mailing documents, slipping envelopes under doors. Sometimes the old ways are still the best. They may seem time-consuming, but they could prevent larger (and even more time-consuming!) problems.

Then there’s the issue of who knew the information that was disclosed. If the information is widely known within an agency, it might be virtually impossible for management to identify the source. If very few had access, those seeking out the source are more likely to be successful. There are some ways around this challenge. Providing a congressional office or a reporter with enough information to ask the right questions or make document requests might be possibilities to strongly consider. This is often the safest route for insiders since it does not involve actually passing along any documents, including potentially sensitive information.

The anonymous route can make follow-up difficult with whoever receives the disclosure. Reporters, IG investigators, and congressional offices may want to know who the source is to assess the disclosure’s credibility and to ask questions. While there are situations where one-time anonymous disclosures lead to changes, they typically do not. Figuring out how to communicate while preserving your anonymity can be key to making an impact.

Another potential downside is that if a whistleblower is later retaliated against and they can’t show that the person who retaliated against them knew they blew the whistle it poses a challenge to their retaliation complaint.

For more, please review “The Art of Anonymous Activism,” by PEER, GAP, and POGO. The book’s discussion of the federal whistleblower laws is now out of date, but the rest of the book generally is on point.

When Being Public Might Make Sense

Sometimes the negative publicity that can stem from retaliating against a whistleblower can give an agency pause. The choice to go public can make sense when management knows who the whistleblower is even if they attempted to stay anonymous. But managers have long memories and when the story fades from the headlines, the press might not be paying attention when management decides to finally take action.

Pros and Cons of the Press

The press often pays more attention when there’s a person at the center of their story since it helps create a narrative. At times this can lead to better coverage and, in certain circumstances, help protect a whistleblower. But sometimes the story becomes more about a person rather than the issue that they raised. This can also backfire if an agency leaks information that impugns a whistleblower’s motive. It’s possible that skeletons in your closet could come out. It may be that individuals with motive to retaliate may make what you might have done in the past appear worse than it was. And going public may raise the ire of managers even more.

Deciding on whether to get involved in a public relations battle is a major decision. I’ve been involved in a number of cases where it has been critical to a whistleblower’s professional survival, including their legal strategy, but it isn’t without risk.

It’s important that whistleblowers understand most journalists are not advocates. Some consider actively protecting their source to be beyond their role as objective journalists (you may want to find out which do and which don’t). Many simply move on to the next story and are no longer interested or available when the hammer falls.

Whom to Disclose To

With some important exceptions (please read below for more), the federal whistleblower protection laws allow employees to make protected disclosures to a wide variety of entities, including the press and the public. Inspectors General (IGs), Congress, the Office of Special Counsel, agency leadership, supervisors, and coworkers can receive disclosures. When deciding on where to go, it’s worth considering the substance of the disclosure and what entity is best suited to take appropriate action. Look for offices or reporters that may have conducted previous quality investigations on similar issues. Research their reputation for working with whistleblowers.

Before making a formal disclosure, consider summarizing the essence of the problem in writing in plain English–on one page. Better yet, one paragraph. While there may be a whole story behind the wrongdoing being exposed, get to the point as early as possible. This exercise will help anyone blowing the whistle communicate their concerns succinctly.

Congress and the press can be important allies even when a whistleblower also discloses to an IG or within their agency. With numerous Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblowers, in the Jason Amerine case, and with many other employees, congressional pressure and media coverage were key to protecting whistleblowers and prompting improved investigations of their disclosures.

Be Careful What Information You Disclose to the Press and the Public

Generally, federal employees are protected for making the types of disclosures described above. But the law carves out exceptions for classified information or information “specifically prohibited by law” from public disclosure. For example, this latter provision covers sensitive medical information protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and tax return information protected under the Internal Revenue Service’s statute. Whistleblowers who disclose these types of information are not protected. Indeed, one can easily be fired for disclosing information prohibited by statute from public disclosure. There are some categories of information created by agency rules and regulations that can still be legally disclosed to the press or the public. In January 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an air marshal who disclosed “Sensitive Security Information,” a category of data created by a Transportation Security Administration regulation. The Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not intend to give agencies a unilateral means of defanging whistleblower protections. But there is enough nuance in the Court’s decision to warrant serious caution since some information categories created by agency regulations may have sufficient basis in statute and thus are excluded from whistleblower protection.

However, Offices of Inspectors General, Congress, and the Office of Special Counsel all can receive sensitive information that cannot legally be disclosed to the press. The whistleblowers who disclose to these channels simply cannot be punished for those disclosures.

Whistleblowing Is Not a Blank Check for Misconduct or Poor Performance

For those identified or even suspected as being a whistleblower, they will come under scrutiny from management and co-workers. It’s a human reaction and many well-meaning people become upset when concerns are taken outside of the chain of command, especially when they’re made public.

While overzealous management with animus can likely find a problem with almost any employee, we advise whistleblowers not to hand them ammo. If you blow the whistle, try to do your job the best you can.

That can be hard to do if management and co-workers socially isolate you and make it hard to do your job. But it’s important to try to be as professional as possible despite the hostility that you might confront. In fact, the pressure that may lead to losing your cool and/or not doing your job effectively could be used as justification for discipline. Hostile work environment claims are difficult to establish, especially if there are no official personnel actions that accompany the hostility. But if it can be shown that the hostility was bad enough to interfere with your ability to do your job despite your best efforts, it may be possible to make a viable claim.

Get An Attorney That Works for You

Agency attorneys ultimately work for their client, which they see as their agency and their leadership. Don’t count on them if you think you’re going to be at odds with management. Indeed, be wary. They don’t have an attorney-client relationship with you and they are conflicted if such a situation develops. At the end of the day, they know who the boss is.

When looking for a private attorney, find one that has previous experience working on federal employment law. POGO provides a list of attorneys.

Don’t Lie—Ever

When dealing with investigators, congressional staffers, reporters, your own attorney, your management, don’t lie to any of them, especially if you work in a national security context. If you lie to management or to investigators, it’s easily a basis for losing your security clearance—if the government can’t trust you, why should you be allowed to see secrets? For many positions, the loss of a clearance is the kiss of professional death. Neither the Office of Special Counsel nor the Merit Systems Protection Board can investigate security clearance determinations due to a Supreme Court decision, Navy v. Egan (484 U.S. 518 (1988)). That said, there are administrative ways to have security clearance decisions reviewed separate from the context of a whistleblower reprisal investigation.

Lying to investigators can result in criminal charges too.

If you lie to reporters or congressional staffers, your credibility will dry up quickly with these potential allies. If you lie to your own attorney, you may cripple their ability to defend you.

Taking Care of What’s Important

The stress of blowing the whistle can be overwhelming and can take a toll on a whistleblower’s personal life outside the office. Many whistleblowers become, understandably so, engrossed by their retaliation case. Prioritize the important people–family and friends–in your life and protect your physical and emotional health. Exercising, hobbies, socializing—these are some ways to renew your psychological well-being.

All federal employees swear an oath to the Constitution and serve the nation, not any one person or political party. Our system of government and its institutions were designed to provide checks and balances. But institutions are only as strong as the people that give them life–and whistleblowers are the conscience of those institutions. Hang in there.”




Whistleblowing Linked to Decrease in Financial Misconduct




“Whistleblowing can lead to lasting changes within a company and a sharp decrease in financial misconduct.

Public companies appear to have a better handle on their books after a whistleblower investigation, according to a new study reported by The New York Times.

The study used Department of Labor data from 2003 to 2010 to identify 317 public companies where employees filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for facing whistleblower retaliation. Those companies were tracked against “control firms” for changes in financial reporting. The study left out other types of whistleblowing in which employees did not submit retaliation claims to OSHA or whistleblowing could not be observed.

Wilde’s findings appear to contradict previous studies:

In addition to demonstrating the deterrent value of whistle-blowing, Mr. Wilde’s study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of The Accounting Review, counters previous research that criticized truth tellers. Some studies have questioned whistleblowers’ motivations in bringing cases, as well as the merits of their complaints, Mr. Wilde noted. For example, some researchers have contended that allegations of wrongdoing may be frivolous or driven by employees’ personal vendettas.

But Mr. Wilde’s research found that many of the tips were valuable. He determined that they typically involved companies with a significantly higher likelihood of financial misreporting in the period before the individuals came forward. While he acknowledged that some of the cases he studied were inconsequential, he added that there were “certainly a number of instances where whistle-blowers are providing critical incremental information that allows the government to have a case against a company or an employee.”

The study also underscores the notion that insiders are best positioned to monitor companies’ financial reporting. This has become especially true as corporations have grown larger and more complex, Mr. Wilde said.”


Read the full article at The New York Times.

NSA Watchdog Removed for Whistleblower Retaliation



National Security Agency photo by Flickr user CreativeTime Reports


“George Ellard occupied a position of trust as top watchdog of the National Security Agency, America’s principal collector of signals intelligence.

Photo of George Ellard

Dr. George Ellard

A high-level Intelligence Community panel found that Ellard  had retaliated against an NSA whistleblower. NSA’s Director, Admiral Michael Rogers, promptly issued  Ellard a notice of proposed termination.

Photo of Admiral Michael Rogers

Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of NSA, photo by Flickr user U.S. Naval War College

Ellard was not only NSA’s Inspector General, but an outspoken critic of Edward Snowden, the former contract employee who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified emails to publicly expose the agency’s domestic surveillance program. Snowden claimed, among other things, that his concerns about NSA’s domestic eavesdropping were ignored by the agency, and that he feared retaliation. Ellard publicly argued in 2014 that Snowden could have safely reported the allegations of NSA’s domestic surveillance directly to him.

The closely held but unclassified finding against Ellard is not public. It was reached by following new whistleblower protections set forth by President Obama in an executive order, Presidential Policy Directive 19. (A President Trump could, in theory, eliminate the order.) Following PPD-19 procedures, a  first-ever External Review Panel (ERP) composed of three of the most experienced watchdogs in the US government was convened to examine the  issue.  The trio — IG’s of the Justice Department, Treasury, and CIA – overturned an earlier finding of the Department of Defense IG, which investigated Ellard but was unable to substantiate his alleged retaliation.

“The finding against Ellard is extraordinary and unprecedented,” notes Stephen Aftergood, Director of the Secrecy Program at the Federation of American Scientists. “This is the first real test drive for a new process of protecting intelligence whistleblowers. Until now, they’ve been at the mercy of their own agencies, and dependent on the whims of their superiors. This process is supposed to provide them security and a procedural foothold.”

“The case, which is still in progress, offers hopeful signs that the new framework may be working,” Aftergood added.

POGO learned of the decision against Ellard from sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. The information was later confirmed by government officials. POGO has been told that mention of the finding will appear in a semiannual report (SAR) of the Intelligence Community IG (ICIG) that should be released in the near future. It makes brief mention of the case without citing Ellard by name.

Neither Ellard, his lawyer, nor the NSA provided any comment, despite POGO’s numerous attempts to offer them the opportunity.

POGO also reached out to the NSA employee and victim of Ellard’s retaliation, posing a detailed series of questions about what happened through an official intermediary. POGO has been told that the whistleblower composed answers to at least some of those queries, and was seeking NSA approval before releasing them. So far, there is no sign that such approval has been granted.

The DODIG told POGO it would have no immediate comment.


Ellard, a Yale-trained lawyer and former prosecutor with a doctorate in philosophy, was for nine years the top oversight official keeping tabs on NSA, an agency fraught with controversy over its handling of Edward Snowden and other prominent whistleblowers. Ellard in particular chose to enter that debate along with other critics who faulted Snowden for his alleged unwillingness to report his concerns about NSA domestic surveillance through channels inside the agency set up for that purpose.

IG Ellard’s criticism of Snowden first stirred controversy during a 2014 panel discussion at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. “Snowden could have come to me,” Ellard declared, arguing that the leaker, now a fugitive in Russia, would have received the same protections as other NSA employees, who file some one thousand reports annually to the agency’s hotline. “We have surprising success in resolving the complaints that are brought to us,” Ellard said, adding, “Perhaps it’s the case that we could have shown, we could have explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do.”

Snowden himself has explicitly contended that he feared retaliation and that  he had no other option but to go public if he wished to expose NSA domestic eavesdropping. Among the cases of retaliation that Snowden has pointed to is that of  former senior NSA employee Thomas Drake, who after reporting alleged wrongdoing through authorized channels, was arrested at dawn by the FBI, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes under the Espionage Act, all of which were later dropped, leaving him to find work  in an Apple store. Snowden’s related contention is that in his own case,  he did, in fact, report his concerns in emails to NSA superiors at the time, a contention which NBC has said  it verified.

Now, given the official finding that Ellard retaliated against an NSA whistleblower, the credibility of Ellard’s argument that Snowden could have come to him is gravely undermined. More generally, there are few if any incentives for intelligence whistleblowers to report problems through designated authorities when the IG of NSA is found to have retaliated against such an individual.


Meanwhile, the ICIG’s handling of what began as a whistleblower complaint against Ellard sends an encouraging signal to those who may report wrongdoing at 17 US intelligence agencies and all executive-branch federal offices where employees hold security clearances, according to the ICIG, which oversees the directive.

Obama proposed the  PPD-19 process in 2012, though implementation did not begin until in mid-2013.  Some 18 appeals for review of a retaliation charge, or the convening of an  ERP , have made their way to the office of Intelligence Community IG Charles McCullough, III, who oversees the directive.

Dan Meyer, the ICIG’s Executive Director for Intelligence Community Whistleblower & Source Protection told POGO, “The purpose of PPD-19 is to offer intelligence and national security whistleblowers an effective and safe means to report problems without being forced to confront the fear of reprisal.”

As such, the Ellard case is groundbreaking not only because it represents the most extensive use of PPD-19 procedures to date, but also because of Ellard’s high-ranking position in a national security environment where few, if any top officials are known to have been held accountable. A variety of reprisal accusations have been made against senior officials over the years. Rightly or wrongly, very few have been ever been substantiated.

Under the PPD-19 procedures used in Ellard’s case, the allegations were first reviewed by the DoD IG, but that office was unable to substantiate retaliation. The victim who had made the allegations then appealed to ICIG McCullough. He, in turn, decided to convene a first-ever high-ranking, three-person ERP to further examine the matter.

McCullough would normally have chaired the group, but opted to recuse himself, mindful of a conflict of interest. Indeed, McCullough previously worked at the NSA IG himself as its chief of investigations. Ellard was his boss.

Filling in for McCullough as chairman of the panel was DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, who selected the CIA and Treasury watchdogs to serve with him.

According to ERP procedures, the panel had the option to approve the earlier DoD IG findings, which did not substantiate retaliation; to ask  the DoD IG to redo all or part of its probe; or to redo the investigation itself, using the record of the previous probe as a baseline.

The ERP opted to conduct its own inquiry, including witness interviews and the evaluation of evidence.

Once the panel found that Ellard had retaliated against a whistleblower, the finding went to Admiral Michael Rogers who, as NSA director, had 90 days to take action on two fronts: what remedy to offer the victim of retaliation, and what discipline to impose on Ellard, the retaliator.

POGO has been unable to determine exactly what remedy Rogers prescribed, if any, for the victim, but he promptly moved against Ellard. The highly unusual outcome marks the first time a PPD-19 review panel has ever been convened and the first time that a prior investigation was reversed under the process set forth in the directive.”