We all want a government that works for the people. But some in our government make decisions based on self-interest at the expense of the public interest. To prevent such corruption, people who have information about abuses of power need to feel safe to come forward and report misconduct. And the investigators who look into those reports need to be independent, well-resourced, and able to do their job without fear of retaliation or political influence. Unfortunately, we have seen time and again that it is too easy for bad actors to silence those who speak out and the investigators who look into their claims.
Individuals who take a stand on issues both big and small—called whistleblowers— regularly face retaliation from their superiors, certain politicians, or even, as we have seen in the past, the White House. Inspectors general, who investigate and reveal waste, fraud, and abuse, are not safe either. We’ve seen them fired or publicly threatened when their investigations have the potential to hold public officials accountable for malfeasance or to embarrass the president or the administration.
Over time, we have seen the traditionally nonpartisan issue of whistleblower protection and inspector general independence become more and more politicized, making it even harder to get reforms passed.
We need to strengthen protections for both truth-tellers and investigators of corruption in the government.
To protect whistleblowers, this means:
Protecting more people. Currently, the military, intelligence community, and FBI have weak protections in place for whistleblowers, while Congress and the federal courts offer no protection for their whistleblowers at all. Whistleblower laws need to be made consistently strong across the federal government.
Prohibiting more forms of retaliation. Agencies are currently able to retaliate against whistleblowers in ways that are not explicitly against the law, like suspending a whistleblower’s security clearance, commissioning invasive retaliatory investigations intended to find dirt on a whistleblower to legitimize retaliation, or generally making a whistleblower’s life miserable. Congress needs to expand whistleblower protections to account for these practices.
Enforcing whistleblower protections and doing more to punish those who retaliate. Just getting a law passed doesn’t mean things change on the ground. Congress needs to ensure that enforcement mechanisms are well-resourced and sufficient to end retaliation.
To support independence for inspectors general, this means:
Improving subpoena power of inspectors general. To ensure that our government's internal watchdogs can form a complete picture of any issue brought to them, they need to be able to subpoena individuals who have relevant information but aren't willing to cooperate with the investigation.
Expanding protections. Laws related to inspectors general should mandate that they can only be removed for misconduct or poor performance (known as “for cause” removal) so that they don’t have to worry that exposing politically charged problems could mean losing their jobs.
Filling long-standing vacancies. The practice (by administrations of both parties!) of leaving inspector general positions vacant for years on end results in weakened oversight of critical agencies like the Department of Defense and the CIA, and it needs to end.