About POGO

Nick Schwellenbach

Nick Schwellenbach

Director of Investigations

nick@pogo.org |

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Nick Schwellenbach rejoined POGO as director of investigations in February 2017. Previously, he was the communications director at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. He was POGO’s director of investigations  from 2010 to 2012 and was an investigator from 2004 through 2008. He also was a senior fiscal policy analyst with the Center for Effective Government and a staff writer with the Center for Public Integrity​. Mr. Schwellenbach received his B.A. in history from the University of Texas-Austin and his M.A. in journalism from American University.

Nick’s work for POGO on excessive secrecy covering up serious misconduct by Justice Department attorneys won the Society of Professional Journalists-D.C. Chapter’s Robert D.G. Lewis Watchdog Award in 2015, its highest prize. He has led investigations into revolving door at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), labor trafficking by the U.S. military’s subcontractors in Iraq, whistleblower retaliation within the Department of Homeland Security, mismanagement of the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 program, and many other topics.

The Outsourced System Making Big Bucks off of “Zero Tolerance”

June 21, 2018

The Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy means some companies and organizations will make big money from detention.

How Trump’s NASA Nominee Used a Nonprofit He Ran to Benefit Himself

April 18, 2018

Rep. James Bridenstine’s nomination is already controversial. Evidence of self-dealing won’t help matters.

Jeff Sessions Has a Huge Conflict of Interest in a Federal Bribery Case—and It Keeps Getting Worse

March 9, 2018

As Alabama’s junior senator, Jeff Sessions was far more involved than previously known in helping two of his top contributors derail a federal environmental cleanup effort, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mother Jones and the Project On Government Oversight.

Gutting Civil Service Laws Would Reduce Senior Official Accountability

February 7, 2018

President Trump has called for weakening civil service protections for federal employees: whistleblowers, Congress, and the public would pay the price.

After Charlottesville, Trump Appointee Silenced a Senior Veterans Affairs Official Who Denounced “Hate and Violence”

December 6, 2017

The Veterans Affairs Department removed from its website a management communication to its workforce that denounced hate in the wake of Charlottesville and that expressed the VA's commitment to diversity and inclusion. There is no public notice that the material was removed. After the communication was removed from the website, the VA official who wrote it left the VA.

What the Menendez Case Tells Us About the State of U.S. Public Corruption Law

November 16, 2017

It is relatively rare for politicians to face criminal prosecution despite the perception that they work for big campaign donors rather than for their own constituents. A number of Supreme Court decisions partly explain why so few cases are brought.

Jeff Sessions Is in Charge of a Bribery Prosecution Involving Two of His Top Donors

October 26, 2017

In recent months, a political bribery scandal has gripped Alabama, ensnaring one state lawmaker and casting attention on the actions of other Alabama politicians, including the one ultimately responsible for overseeing the bribery case and potential environmental litigation: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Luther Strange's Chief Fundraiser Tied to Ongoing Bribery Investigation, New Documents Show

September 20, 2017

Previously unreported documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight shows the lead fundraiser for Senator Luther Strange’s reelection campaign is connected to an ongoing federal public corruption investigation.

Recusal Time, Again

July 31, 2017

An ongoing federal investigation in Alabama involves a powerful law firm and coal company with deep connections to Attorney General Sessions and Senator Strange.

Necessary and Proper: Best Practices for Congressional Investigations

June 7, 2017

Who has the ability credibility, and independence to perform an effective and fair investigation during a breaking national scandal, disaster, or crisis?

Health and Human Services Illegally Gags Its Employees from Communicating With Congress

May 9, 2017

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a memorandum to its employees on May 3, 2017, that gags its employees from speaking with Congress and violates the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA; 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(13)). The memorandum was made public today by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

POGO Letter to White House: Conflicted Advisors Should Be Subject to Ethics Laws

April 6, 2017

In a letter to White House Counsel, POGO urges the White House to make Stephen Feinberg and Carl Icahn subject to federal ethics laws given their vast conflicts of interest.

Justice Department's "Secret Law" Still Prevalent, Documents Show

March 22, 2017

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produces binding legal opinions on important issues, many of which are secret. POGO’s analysis shows that the Obama administration did not make OLC substantially more transparent. The Trump administration could chart a new path forward.

Survivor’s Guide to Being a Successful Whistleblower in the Federal Government

February 24, 2017

The decision to blow the whistle can be immensely patriotic: 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?

How Whistleblowers Can Work With POGO

February 23, 2017

For decades, POGO has worked with government insiders to expose wrongdoing that affects the public. Learn how to work with POGO to spark change while staying anonymous.

Why Military Whistleblowers Fear Reprisal: When Taking Adverse Personnel Actions, the Chain of Command Often Gets a Pass

October 20, 2011

Each year, hundreds of uniformed members of the military send official complaints to Inspectors General (IGs) within the Department of Defense (DoD) saying that they are the targets of reprisal. Most do not have their claims of reprisal substantiated.

Leaked Audit: Boeing Overcharged Army Up to 177,000 Percent on Helicopter Spare Parts

June 28, 2011

$644.75 for a small gear smaller than a dime that sells for $12.51: more than a 5,100 percent increase in price. $1,678.61 for another tiny part, also smaller than a dime, that could have been bought within DoD for $7.71: a 21,000 percent increase. $71.01 for a straight, thin metal pin that DoD had on hand, unused by the tens of thousands, for 4 cents: an increase of over 177,000 percent.

POGO Letter to the U.S. Air Force's Suspension and Debarment official on the Army's request for action against Airtech International Inc.

July 22, 2008

My organization, the Project On Government Oversight, revealed in May that the Army Criminal Investigation Command sent your office a letter in 2006 recommending debarment or some other action against Airtech International, Inc., for the company’s substantiated and decade-long pattern of bribery, kickbacks and fraud.

POGO Letter to the Boeing Company regarding Airtech International Inc.'s product substitution

July 22, 2008

My organization, the Project On Government Oversight, revealed in May that The Boeing Company, along with other aerospace manufacturers, was being supplied with bogus materials by a composite materials supplier called Airtech International, Inc.

Testimony of POGO's Nick Schwellenbach on "Examining the Executive Branch Reform Act of 2007 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007"

February 13, 2007

Thank you for inviting me to testify today in support of the "Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007." Whistleblower protections need to be greatly improved if the Executive Branch—regardless of who is in the White House—is to be held accountable by the Legislative Branch, as our nation's founders intended.

Biologist Reinforces POGO’s Letter Concerning CDC Investigations

August 12, 2005

I write this letter as a concerned citizen and in reference to the letter dated July 6, 2005 , titled “POGO letter to Congress raising concerns with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigative ability"1, signed by Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

How Zinke’s Interior Department Has Impeded Oversight

May 22, 2018

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides often disregard, and perhaps even attempt to evade, oversight and accountability

The Modern Politics of American Whistleblowing

March 12, 2018

Whistleblowers are critical to journalists; their disclosures can inform the public and help hold the powerful accountable. They can reveal wrongdoing that government officials or corporate titans would rather keep under wraps.

Meet the Oil-Friendly Federal Panel that Could Give Drillers a Sweetheart Deal

February 27, 2018

The oil, gas and mining industry has six voting seats out of 20 on the panel, known as the Royalty Policy Committee, and they predictably advocate for paying the public less. But industry’s voice on the committee is supposed to be balanced with perspectives from state and tribal governments — Native American tribes also receive a share — and civil society and academia.

DHS Showdown with Watchdog Over Travel Ban Report Partially Resolved

January 22, 2018

The Department of Homeland Security and its Office of Inspector General moved beyond an impasse over the public issuance of a report on the Department’s bungled rollout of President Trump’s travel ban. But parts of the report are still veiled in secrecy.

Department of Homeland Security Threatens to Muzzle Its Watchdog from Reporting on Trump’s Travel Ban

November 21, 2017

The watchdog at the Department of Homeland Security found DHS violated court orders during the rollout of Trump’s travel ban. But the watchdog’s full findings are being blocked by DHS from public release.

Opioid Investigation Shows the Swamp in Action

October 27, 2017

The federal government’s efforts to fight the widespread deadly epidemic of opioid addiction were stymied by the campaign finance system and the revolving door.

IG Calls for Detailed Reporting on Medical Device Failures

October 10, 2017

A new report from a federal watchdog calls on the government to require hospitals to provide more detailed reporting on medical device problems to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Better reporting could help the government identify malfunctioning devices more quickly to save lives and help affected patients get more timely follow-up care, as well as to reduce both out-of-pocket costs to patients and Medicare spending.

Disaster Relief Needs Oversight to Stop Waste and Fraud

September 6, 2017

As Congress contemplates funding billions of dollars in disaster aid, it should ensure the money is overseen adequately.

Lawmakers Question Interior Secretary Over Whistleblower Reassignment

August 17, 2017

Members of Congress are supporting a Department of Interior executive who says management retaliated against him because he disclosed how climate change is putting Alaskan coastal communities at risk.

POGO Unveils Tool to Help Federal Whistleblowers Know Their Rights

July 27, 2017

POGO’s new “Know Your Rights” tool is a starting point for federal whistleblowers who want to understand what the law protects and what it doesn’t.

Letting Contractors Pick Their Own Auditors is a Bad Idea

June 20, 2017

A new law lets contractors hire their own auditors, despite history that shows it can come at the expense of independent oversight.

What to Look For Next: Leak Investigations and More Attacks on the Press

May 19, 2017

The administration has signaled it wants to aggressively go after the press and its sources. Congress should push back on attacks on the First Amendment.

Health and Human Services Illegally Gags Its Employees from Communicating With Congress

May 9, 2017

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a memorandum to its employees on May 3, 2017, that gags them from speaking with Congress and thus violates the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. The memorandum was made public today by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who expressed concerns with the HHS memo.

It Keeps Getting Worse for Michael Flynn

April 28, 2017

President Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may be in legal trouble for failing to disclose information about his relationships with foreign governments.

Will Trump’s Veterans Affairs Exec Order Make a Difference to Whistleblowers?

April 27, 2017

President Trump is establishing another office at the VA focused on accountability and whistleblowers. Will it solve problems or create new ones?

Financial Sector Whistleblower Safeguards: Failing the Reality Test?

April 20, 2017

Barclays has announced investigations by British regulators of its CEO’s efforts to identify a corporate whistleblower, in an apparent breach of bank policies and regulatory duties. In attempting to breach the anonymity of the whistleblower, the CEO jeopardized the whistleblower program by signaling that employees reporting misconduct cannot be assured protection against exposure and retaliation.

Advisors to the President Should Be Subject to Ethics Laws

April 6, 2017

In a letter to White House Counsel, POGO urged the White House to make Stephen Feinberg and Carl Icahn subject to federal ethics laws given their vast conflicts of interest.

Trump’s Trademarks Pose Ethics Challenge for the Executive Branch

March 13, 2017

President Trump has trademark litigation before an executive branch panel—these judges ultimately work for Trump. Can they neutrally preside over a case involving him?

Private Prisons Are Back: Here's Why That's a Terrible Idea

February 27, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the Justice Department’s decision last year to phase out its use of private prisons, despite new reports raising concerns about their use.

Pentagon Intensifies Efforts to Plug Leaks, Catch Leakers

October 18, 2012

Defense Secretary outlines plan to detect leaks of classified information and pursue leakers.

Robert MacLean: Homeland Security Whistleblower

August 10, 2011

At the end of July 2011, Robert MacLean learned the outcome of over a year of waiting. He was waiting on a second ruling from the relatively obscure and awkwardly named Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB, or the “Board”). The three-member Board in Washington, DC, is an administrative quasi-court that handles federal government whistleblower claims of retaliation, among other things. MacLean is a former federal air marshal who blew the whistle in July 2003 on his agency, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. After lengthy reviews by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and two by this Board, the first one in 2009, MacLean lost his claim that he was retaliated against.

Is the F-22 Too Difficult to Use? Big Questions Surround Raptor's Grounding

July 12, 2011

Many pixels have been spilled on the recent grounding of the F-22 Raptor fleet, problems with the plane's oxygen systems, and the possible role of the oxygen system in the November 2010 crash of an F-22 in Alaska and death of its pilot. Here's a quick roundup of coverage of the latest problems facing this very expensive plane, followed by some questions that I think need to be answered.

Documents Reveal Details of Alleged Labor Trafficking by KBR Subcontractor

June 14, 2011

In December 2008, South Asian workers staged a protest on the outskirts of Baghdad. The reason: Up to 1,000 of them had been confined in a windowless warehouse without money or work for as long as three months.

DoD Identifies 14 "Should-Cost" and "Will-Cost" Demonstration Programs

April 28, 2011

The Air Force, Army, and Navy have identified fourteen weapons programs where they will employ two management techniques to prevent massive cost overruns, according to an April 22 Department of Defense (DoD) memo obtained by Inside Defense.com.

Senator Pushes DCAA To Complete More Incurred Cost Audits

February 3, 2011

Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) prodded the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) to finish more incurred cost audits and decrease its backlog at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Contract Oversight hearing on Tuesday.

Energy Secretary Removes Linton Brooks

January 4, 2007

The head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous branch of the Energy Department responsible for the nuclear weapons complex, is stepping down at the end of the month due to lapses within the complex. Ambassador Linton Brooks took charge of NNSA in 2002.

TSA Trying to Protect Its "Dubious Secrets"

July 6, 2006

Many 9/11 victim families have set their sights on the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) dubious Sensitive Security Information (SSI) secrecy marking. One of a number of so-called "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) information designations, SSI has been abused by TSA to keep information from the public.

Just Flu It

November 4, 2005

June 15, 2018

Inspector general on Comey: dissecting an error in judgment

The Christian Science Monitor | By Warren Richey

June 15, 2018

IG Faults Comey's Judgment But Sees No Bias

Voice of America | By Masood Farivar

May 25, 2018

Trump issues orders making it easier to fire federal employees

Politico | By Lorraine Woellert

May 25, 2018

Trump Civil Service Order Makes It Easier to Say ‘You’re Fired’

Bloomberg BNA | By Louis LaBrecque

May 23, 2018

New Documents Show Why Scott Pruitt Wanted a “Campaign-Style” Media Operation

Mother Jones | By Rebecca Leber, Russ Choma

May 22, 2018

Interior whistleblower complaints rise — but why?

E&E News | By Hannah Northey

April 19, 2018

Trump’s NASA Nominee, Jim Bridenstine, Confirmed by Senate on Party-Line Vote

The New York Times | By Kenneth Chang

March 19, 2018

Trump Admin. Purging Civil Servants Suspected Of Disloyalty

Talking Points Memo | By Alice Ollstein

October 25, 2017

Jeff Sessions Is in Charge of a Bribery Prosecution Involving Two of His Top Donors

Mother Jones | By Russ Choma, Nick Schwellenbach

October 16, 2017

The Trump Administration Has No Plan for Dealing With a North Korean EMP Attack

Foreign Policy | By John Kester

October 10, 2017

Zinke’s travels: Ski resort and Alaskan steakhouse

Politico | By Esther Whieldon and Ben Lefebvre

September 20, 2017

Luther Strange finance chair tied to nonprofit in Alabama bribery case

AL.com | By Kyle Whitmire

September 11, 2017

Spending Battles Are Likely Still Brewing Despite Bipartisan Agreement on Hurricane Aid

Government Executive | By Charles S. Clark

August 23, 2017

Did Ben Carson Violate a Federal Law at Trump’s Campaign Rally?

Government Executive | By Eric Katz

June 22, 2017

Should DCAA Hand Certain Audits to Commercial Firms?

Government Executive | By Charles S. Clark

June 20, 2017

NSA May Finally Get Independent Internal Watchdog

US News and World Report | By Steven Nelson,

February 15, 2017

Trump Fumes Over 'Criminal' Leaks as Culprits Risk Harsh Penalties

U.S. News and World Report | By Steven Nelson

January 26, 2017

Special Counsel Issues Reminder That Agencies Cannot Gag Whistleblowers

Government Executive | By Charles S. Clark