Now that the impeachment of President Trump and Senate trial has come to a close, it is time for those of us who fight for the rights of whistleblowers to take stock. Given the turbulent events of the past few months, how can the National Whistleblower Center ensure that future would-be whistleblowers know that they will be supported if they step forward to hold wrongdoers accountable?
On the bright side, we have had many teachable moments that serve as a foundation for building a movement for new whistleblower protections and a stronger democracy. NWC has appeared regularly in the media, at conferences, and in Congress in the past several months to defend the anonymous whistleblower’s rights to confidentiality and to explain why protecting whistleblowers is critical to democracy and the rule of law. We have communicated important nuances of whistleblower protection, such as the value of second-hand evidence and the reasons why investigators do not reject whistleblower evidence based on speculation about motive.
That said, for the first time in U.S. history, a President openly threatened the safety of a whistleblower and called for the exposure of the whistleblower’s confidential identity. Prominent allies in Congress and in the media joined this campaign of intimidation and retaliation. Although such retaliation and witness intimidation may not be prosecutable, it is nonetheless bad for our democracy.
A December poll by the Government Business Council shows that the harmful effects are already being seen in the federal workforce. One in three federal workers surveyed said they are now less likely to “report an act of perceived wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities” because of the attacks on the whistleblower by Trump and his allies. (Half of the respondents said that Trump’s attacks would have no impact on their willingness to expose wrongdoing and 16 percent said they were now more likely to blow the whistle.)
We have entered a new era, where the forward march of progress on whistleblower protection can no longer be taken for granted. Starting today, we must build a movement for more powerful whistleblower protections. Already, NWC has begun rallying Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass new protections for federal government whistleblowers, including stronger confidentiality provisions, new Privacy Act sanctions for outing whistleblowers’ identities, and access to the federal courts and jury trials. But achieving these victories will not be easy; we need the help of all our NGO friends and grassroots supporters. We hope you will join us in this fight today.