Ethics Agenda

Whistleblowers are facing a daily crisis, many without any protections at all. To remedy, NWC has published an Ethics Agenda identifying core legislative initiatives needed to move the dial significantly in the favor of whistleblowers and their protections. Once passed, these laws will protect thousands of whistleblowers for years to come.

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Congress needs to implement an effective ethics agenda. Strong corporate ethics laws, based on incentivizing whistleblowers to report frauds, are needed now, especially in light of the trillions of dollars in actual or proposed federal spending for COVID-19 relief efforts and infrastructural fixes. Those who trade in illegal wildlife or dodge environmental regulations need to be held accountable, and  whistleblowers are the key to that accountability. The whistleblower-based ethics laws in this agenda are based on procedures that have triggered thousands of successful prosecutions and recovered billions of dollars from fraudsters. 

Whistleblower protections are supported by the public – regardless of demographics or political stance. This is why we believe that with your support, we can send a Million Messages to Congress, and successfully raise awareness about whistleblower protections ultimately leading to your elected Senators and Representatives codifying this ethics agenda into law.

Help us enact a lasting ethics agenda that will advance whistleblower protections. To learn more, read NWC Board Chair Stephen M. Kohn’s overview editorial piece in The Hill, here.

Our Ethics Agenda aims to:

1. Make National Whistleblower Day Permanent – 

Federal whistleblowers seeking to improve government processes, frontline workers safeguarding public health, wildlife whistleblowers uncovering crime networks, environmental whistleblowers exposing pollution all deserve to be protected when exposing wrongdoing.

Each year, members of the House and Senate introduce and pass resolutions designating that year’s July 30th as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. Doing so solidifies congressional support for whistleblowers and shows whistleblowers that advocates on and off Capitol Hill exist. It’s time to make this day permanent, to increase awareness and educate the public.

2. Enact Whistleblower Protection for Climate Change and Wildlife Trafficking – 

Illegal wildlife trafficking has ballooned into a multi-billion-dollar industry that has led to a dramatic increase in wildlife crime. NWC has long called for protections for whistleblowers that help put an end to these crimes. 

Now, NWC calls upon our supporters to take our Wildlife Whistleblower Pledge. By signing, you pledge your willingness to action supporting these crucial individuals fighting for wildlife and join a community that will be first to know when NWC is aware of opportunities to take action for wildlife whistleblowers.

A critical bipartisan whistleblower bill from Representative Garamendi awaits reintroduction. It would protect whistleblowers who report wildlife and environmental crimes. Modeled on the Dodd-Frank Act, the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act would protect the anonymity of whistleblowers reporting wildlife trafficking, IUU fishing, and illegal logging practices. It would also authorize awards for these whistleblowers under the State Department. By signing the Wildlife Whistleblower Pledge, you show support for these protections and will be the first to know about wildlife whistleblower protection bills like this.

3. Confirm Members to the Merit Systems Protection Board – 

For four years the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has not held a quorum,and has not had a single sitting member since 2019. The MSPB is the only administrative agency with jurisdiction to enforce employment rights for federal employee whistleblowers, including the Whistleblower Protection Act. The backlog of cases grows steadily as each day without members passes.

Among the MSPB’s purview are the employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A functioning MSPB must ensure EPA employees, like most federal employees, have been educated on their whistleblower rights and do not face retaliation when reporting environmental degradation, regulatory violations, or malfeasance. Our environment cannot afford an EPA without oversight.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee voted to advance President Biden’s nominated MSPB appointees, and now these appointees await final Senate approval. Thousands of federal employee whistleblower cases remain in limbo, awaiting news. The Homeland Security Committee must send the nominees to the Senate floor for a vote. Send Congress a message today and encourage them to confirm these nominees so employees at important environmental agencies like the EPA can continue to make reports and see justice. 

4. Protect Grid Whistleblowers – 

Whistleblower protections are also needed to protect the electric grid, which currently faces an unprecedented number of cyberattacks. Utilities vulnerabilities and poorly maintained infrastructure, combined with rising temperatures spark wildfires. Electric grid workers with safety and security concerns currently rely on a patchwork of weak protections, and in 2019, a PG&E employee was fired after reporting fire safety concerns.

To fix this, Senator Grassley and Senator Markey introduced an amendment last year that would extend whistleblower protections to electric grid workers who report concerns related to fire safety or the protection and security of electric infrastructure and information. To protect the electric grid, tell Congress to reintroduce this amendment and act to protect the workers who are essential to maintaining it.

5. Fix the Anti-Money Laundering Act – 

In December 2020, the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act passed with whistleblower protections included in its money laundering title, the Anti-Money Laundering Act. Edits to the Act meant that anti-money laundering whistleblower provisions fell short of best practices for protecting whistleblowers.

Today, the whistleblower protections in the Anti-Money Laundering Act would allow the Treasury Department nearly unlimited discretion in setting whistleblower award amounts without judicial review, meaning low bounty awards could be approved without oversight. This is a huge distinction from the highly effective mandatory 10% award provided by the Dodd-Frank Act. The  Act also currently excludes employees of FDIC-insured banks and credit unions, leaving them defenseless against retaliation. Money laundering is a tool used by professional enablers of environmental crimes, and without adequate rewards or protections for front-line employees at FDIC-insured banks, whistleblowers have little to no incentive to report. 

These loopholes must be fixed in order to encourage and award brave anti-money laundering whistleblowers who come forward and deserve protection. These whistleblowers are integral to catching corruption in the supply chain, as many major financial institutions profit off of illegal deforestation, wildlife trafficking, and unsustainable fossil fuel extraction.

By failing to flag or facilitating suspicious financial transactions, banks may exacerbate these issues, potentially by attempting to disguise the proceeds of illegal logging or hide bribery in corrupt oil deals.

6. Pass the False Claims Act Reforms – 

Crucial amendments to the federal False Claims Act, introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley, failed to make it into the 2021 Infrastructure Bill after targeted attacks from Big Pharma and corporate interests. These amendments would have protected whistleblowers from retaliation and blacklisting and would have also prevented anti-whistleblower judges from creating higher burdens of proof. This attack halted key protections for whistleblowers in the amendments, as technicalities in the False Claims Act have allowed corrupt contractors to escape liability and skate by while stealing from taxpayers.

The False Claims Act has long been seen as the US’ strongest tool against those who defraud the government. The qui tam provisions provide a strong roadmap for environmental whistleblowers: witnesses to wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing, deforestation, and pollution should be monetarily rewarded for coming forward. These crucial amendments must be adopted to maintain the False Claims Acts’ status as the gold standard. 

A group of bipartisan Senators including Sens. Grassley, Durbin, Wicker, and Kennedy are still fighting alongside several public interest groups. With these whistleblower protection amendments halted, it is critical that they are reintroduced, supported, and passed.

7. Defend COVID-19 Whistleblowers – 

Despite putting their lives on the line during a global pandemic, hospital workers and others on the frontlines against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still lack critical federal whistleblower protections. Frontline workers are unable to bring their cases to court and must file cases with the Department of Labor (DoL) within thirty days of retaliation. The DoL can refuse to file on their behalf – meaning they could automatically lose.

Tell Congress to be serious about protecting workers and their right to safe workplaces, it must demand commonsense reforms to protect our workers. Weaknesses in laws like the Occupational Health and Safety Act must be strengthened to adequately safeguard the whistleblower rights of American healthcare workers and laborers.

8. Fund the Commodity Whistleblower Program – 

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Customer Protection Fund neared depletion due to the success of the CFTC whistleblower program, and the growing number of highly qualified whistleblowers eligible for awards. This fund was used to pay whistleblowers and helped operate the CFTC Whistleblower office. Despite setting whistleblower award records at the CFTC, the program was slowly going bankrupt.

Strengthening the CFTC whistleblower program is crucial to preserving our environment. The CFTC is responsible for overseeing fraud and manipulation related to Bitcoin, which has been repudiated as a gargantuan consumer of electricity, the majority of which comes from coal power plants. The CFTC has realized it’s obligation to reduce carbon emissions and has established a Climate Risk Unit. Effective oversight of bitcoin is crucial in this effort, and whistleblowers are the best tool in this fight. 

9. Stop the “Repeal by Delay” of the IRS Whistleblower Program – 

On average, it takes the IRS almost ten years to process the average whistleblower case. In addition, the IRS has reported that numerous whistleblowers have died before their claims could be processed and paid. Whistleblowers have already helped the IRS bring in over $6 billion dollars in unpaid taxes, yet there are billions more that remain uncollected.

The IRS is tasked with investigating and stopping fraud in the oil and gas industry, and whistleblowers are instrumental to these efforts. For every fraud the IRS uncovers in the fossil fuel industry, countless others go undetected. We must incentivize insiders to come forward, ensuring they have adequate protection, to protect our environment and consumers.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden introduced the IRS Whistleblower Program Improvement Act of 2021 in the Senate, alongside Representatives Mike Thompson and Mike Kelly in the House. This would introduce crucial reforms to the IRS whistleblower tax program, including the right to anonymity and to correct key delays.

Take Action!

Join NWC in taking action on this critical Ethics Agenda by helping us send a Million Messages to Congress, here. For a breakdown of each action, visit our Million Messages Campaign page, here.

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