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Project on Government Oversight

Most State Recovery Websites Lack Whistleblower Protection, Hotline, and Procedure Information

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May 13, 2009

If you know that stimulus money in your state is being wasted or stolen and want to report that, lots of luck. Because whistleblowers are essential to preventing fraud, waste, and abuse, the Project On Government Oversight assessed the initial progress of state oversight and accountability of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. To do so, we conducted an unscientific and subjective survey to figure out just what the 49 state recovery websites say about blowing the whistle.[1] Here’s what we found:

  • Only 7 states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Texas) listed clear procedures for whistleblowers, such as what information to report, who to report to, and what will be done with that information.
  • Only 7 states (Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, Texas, Kentucky) listed what whistleblower protections exist.  Of those 7, many simply explained that retaliation is illegal, but refrained from providing any kind of detail.
  • Only 14 states had a hotline phone number listed to report waste, fraud, and abuse. Some simply had a “Contact Us” email and phone number, others had a “Suggestions Box.”
  • An impressive 84% of the websites listed the federal agency that awarded the contract in the majority of cases. The other 16% didn’t have the information, had insufficient information, or were just too plain confusing. 

On the brighter side, it’s a good step forward that 49 states have a website at all. Further, POGO is encouraged that a few states have posted whistleblower-friendly websites, which can serve as models for other states to follow. Tied for first prize are Florida and Georgia whose sites did excellent jobs with clear procedures, protections, hotline information, and detailed information regarding funds and spending. Next up is Maine’s site, which also had clear procedures and protections, and clearly visible hotline information. Connecticut and Texas deserve honorable mentions for websites that do a good job of making the whistleblower’s job easier.
  
All in all, while there is certainly room for improvement, the websites showed a marked effort to improve transparency and solicit public input. Many of the sites are still in development—even the federal recovery.gov website run by The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board doesn’t have its online complaint form up, but we expect that be in place shortly.

This study is a follow-up to last week's testimony of POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian before the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight regarding the implementation and oversight of the Recovery Act.  Ms. Brian stressed the need for clear language on state and local recovery websites in order to educate potential whistleblowers about how to report waste, fraud, and abuse, and just what their protections are when doing so. She stated, “An individual in their hometown who comes across misconduct in the spending of recovery dollars is unlikely to be so immersed in the minutiae of the rules to know which website to look at—they may not even know which federal agency awarded the contract.” 
 
POGO will be watching whether the other 43 states follow the example of the 7, allowing the detection and prevention of waste, fraud, and abuse to become the rule, not the exception.

 

 
[1] Louisiana does not have a site designated for recovery funds, it only links to Transportation recovery funding from its Department of Transportation website

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.