Last Saturday, July 30, marked National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. It was on that day in 1778 that the Constitutional Congress passed our country’s first whistleblower law. To commemorate the date, longtime whistleblower champion Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote about how retaliation against Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Jason Amerine for blowing the whistle on the United States’ dysfunctional hostage recovery process exemplifies how the government so often breaks its promise to support whistleblowers. It was only the behind-the-scenes intervention of the Project On Government Oversight; lawyers at Katz, Marshall and Banks; a few courageous military officers; and champions in Congress, Resentatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Senators Grassley and Ron Johnson (R-WI), that ended the retaliatory investigation into LTC Amerine’s disclosures to Congress. He shared his story at POGO’s 35th Anniversary event.
“Unfortunately, Amerine’s story is not unique,” Senator Grassley wrote. “Government employees frequently face retaliation for pointing out fraud, waste, misconduct, or even for suggesting reforms to improve government operations. These whistleblowers have firsthand knowledge of problems in government, and often, they are part of a limited group of people who can bring them to light.” Silencing or failing to support those who come forward to fix things undermines our democracy because, Senator Grassley said, it allows problems to fester. “A government of the people may never reach its full potential to work for the people.”
The failure to support military whistleblowers is particularly acute since their protections against illegal retaliation for reporting wrongdoing are the lowest common denominator. Last month POGO joined groups across the political spectrum urging conferees of the National Defense Authorization Act to preserve overdue reforms in the final bill. The changes include providing military members the same burden of proof afforded to civilians (which forces an agency to prove retaliation was not illegal versus the making the military member prove that it was), prohibiting retaliatory investigations like the one the Army used against LTC Amerine, establishing uniform procedures for military whistleblower investigations, and requiring a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the integrity of the Department of Defense Inspector General’s (DoD IG) whistleblower program. Many of these reforms are the direct result of disclosures from whistleblowers, POGO investigative findings, and GAO reviewsthat found systemic problems in the DoD IG’s enforcement of military whistleblower protections. They also have bipartisan champions in both chambers, including Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Grassley and Representatives Rod Blum (R-IA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), and Speier.