How Whistleblowers Can Work With POGO

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February 23, 2017 | By: Nick Schwellenbach
Man blowing the whistle

Since 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has worked on investigations with insiders from across the federal government, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy, Interior, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Justice, State, and other agencies, such as financial regulators. We have also focused on cross-cutting, government-wide issues such as the costs of contracting out government functions. POGO uses a nonpartisan approach to ensure that credible whistleblower disclosures of systemic and significant problems get the review they deserve and spark appropriate congressional and executive branch action. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

We are always looking for knowledgeable insiders and whistleblowers who can shed light on government and contractor wrongdoing that should be reformed and remedied. And, from the beginning, POGO has always protected the anonymity of its sources—a pledge that we will continue to keep. The earlier a would-be whistleblower comes to POGO before making a disclosure, the better we can help them avoid retaliation and safely blow the whistle. If you’re considering blowing the whistle, consider coming to POGO!

Our investigations have led to front-page stories in major newspapers, in-depth television segments, congressional hearings, legislation, executive orders, program cancellations, and other reforms.

Shining a Light on Wrongdoing

There are several ways you can work with POGO. A few of the most common ways are:

  1. Disclosing documents and information directly to us; and
  2. Telling us what to ask and look for.

Official documents are especially important because they provide concrete evidence and can back up other information provided by whistleblowers. There are several secure means of electronically sending us documents. As always, we advise insiders not to use government computers, devices, or networks when sending documents to us over the Internet.

Insiders can also tell us what documents to request using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In addition, insiders may know of information already in the public domain—such as documents located in obscure corner of a federal agency’s website or on the court docket of a case in litigation. Often the key is simply knowing where to look and government experts are often in the best position to know.

Turning Your Disclosure Into An Elevator Pitch

It is often useful to boil down your concerns and whistleblower disclosure to one page or less: What’s the top line problem in 1-3 sentences? Why does the disclosure matter in one paragraph? What are the 3-5 most important pieces of evidence or other things POGO should know? We understand there is usually more information we should know, but this is our starting point to a disclosure: summarizing the disclosure succinctly can help us more quickly understand it.

Whistleblowers sometimes can write dissertation-length documents outlining every nook and cranny of the issue. But that’s not usually useful to POGO when we are initially assessing a disclosure. A summary helps us triage our intake. We then can later digest more lengthy documentation.

Crafting this one-pager (or less) will also help when you need to talk about your disclosure.

What We’re Looking For

Unfortunately, because of our limited resources, we cannot act on every tip we receive. While not rigid criteria, here are the guidelines we use when evaluating whether or not to launch an investigation:

  • Capacity to make a unique contribution;
  • Opening for positive systemic change in the federal government;
  • Ability to broaden public awareness;
  • Urgency for action; and
  • Availability of inside sources and/or documents.

Once we have decided to investigate an issue, our investigations usually consist of trying to document and verify the severity, extent, and impacts of the problem that the whistleblower(s) disclosed to POGO. We follow the same practices as journalists do and seek to accurately, ethically, fairly, and independently seek the truth and report it. The Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics are principles we abide by.

Even if we do not launch an investigation, we may be able to assist a whistleblower in finding a congressional office or committee, watchdog agency, reporter, or other groups interested in their disclosure.

POGO’s Limits

We do not provide legal representation to whistleblowers. Our site hosts a webpage listing law firms and other groups that provide legal representation to whistleblowers and the government agencies with the responsibility for investigating retaliation claims. POGO staff can help employees understand what whistleblower protections might apply to them--however, whistleblowers should consult with qualified and experienced attorneys with expertise in federal whistleblower protection laws for legal advice specific to their circumstances.

By working with POGO, whistleblowers can better achieve what they really want: Positive change that helps the American public get the government it needs.

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