The National Whistleblower Center led the fight to protect the False Claims Act at the Department of Justice from the very top, with new Attorney General, William P. Barr.
In December 2018, President Trump nominated a radical anti-whistleblower advocate to be the new U.S. Attorney General of the United States. The National Whistleblower Center learned that in 1998 and again in 2002, Barr made statements in which he strongly opposed the highly successful qui tam whistleblower provisions in the False Claims Act.
Mr. Barr’s nomination placed the entire False Claims Act, and many whistleblowers, at risk. The Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing numerous whistleblower laws, including the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, the most successful whistleblower law in history.
The National Whistleblower Center immediately issued a press release and action alert to call attention to Barr’s history of hostility toward the False Claims Act. It was clear that immediate action would be needed to ensure that the Department of Justice continue to protect the False Claims Act under Barr’s leadership – and whistleblowers who risk their lives and livelihoods to come forward.
Our Executive Director, Stephen M. Kohn, published a widely discussed op-ed in The Hill, explaining Mr. Barr’s troubling history with whistleblowers. In the op-ed, Kohn explained,
“While serving as Assistant Attorney General under the first President Bush, Barr authored a infamous memorandum arguing that the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act were unconstitutional. Barr stood alone among top Justice Department officials in vehemently opposing the whistleblower law. His arguments were rejected by President Bush’s Solicitor General, Attorney General, and all subsequent key leaders within the DOJ. But years after leaving office, and after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the False Claims Act was constitutional, Barr continued his constitutional criticisms of the False Claims Act, attacking the whistleblower provisions as an “abomination.”
Mr. Kohn was also interviewed by the press, including in a Reuters article. Additionally, the Whistleblower Blog the blog of the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund, published a blog explaining the importance of Mr. Barr’s nomination and calling for further action. Furthermore, NWC Policy Counsel Maya Efrati drafted and signed on to a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as part of a broad coalition of whistleblower and good governance advocates. The coalition letter can be accessed here.
Crucially, the NWC Action Alert Network, a network of hundreds of thousands of whistleblower supporters throughout the country, was able to create momentum and demonstrate the broad public support for the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act.
The NWC issued another action alert on January 14, 2019, calling for Barr to be questioned regarding his attacks against whistleblowers during his confirmation hearing scheduled the next day.
As a result of the overwhelming tide of support, Mr. Barr was compelled to renounce his prior position. Testifying before Congress, Mr. Barr unequivocally repudiated his previous opposition and pledged to “diligently enforce the False Claims Act.”
Kohn was quoted in The Wall Street Journal breaking the news, noting that,
“National Whistleblower Center founder… Stephen Kohn said the response, which constitutes a reversal of his prior opposition to the law, marks a step forward for accountability in government.”
His relevant testimony, in full, was as follows:
Grassley: Is the False Claims Act unconstitutional?
Barr: No, Senator. It’s been upheld by the Supreme Court.
Grassley: Do you consider the False Claims Act to be an abomination?
Barr: No, I don’t.
Grassley: Does the False Claims Act benefit the taxpayer specifically its provisions to empower and protect whistleblowers?
Barr: Yes, Senator.
Grassley: If confirmed, do you commit to not take any actions to undermine the False Claims Act; further if confirmed, will you continue current justice department staff and funding levels to properly support and prosecute False Claims Act cases?
Barr: Yes, I will diligently enforce the False Claims Act.
“Barr’s commitment to protecting whistleblowers major step forward for accountability in government.”
“The significance of Barr’s commitment to enforcing the False Claim Act’s whistleblower provisions cannot be underestimated. The Justice Department’s partnership with whistleblowers in fighting fraud has led to over $40 billion in collections from fraudsters who tried to steal from the taxpayer,” Kohn said.
“Our voices were heard. The NWC, along with other whistleblower advocates, raised an alarm over Barr’s prior positions that were hostile to whistleblowers. We are pleased that Barr has changed his position, and we will hold him accountable for fulfilling this under oath commitment,” Kohn added.
With this success, the National Whistleblower Center will continue to diligently work to ensure that the Department of Justice, under Barr’s leadership, will protect the rights of whistleblowers.