The National Whistleblower Center (NWC) released its End-of-Year Report, filled with whistleblower successes from 2016. In the past year, the NWC continued its mission to strengthen whistleblower protections and incentives, defend whistleblowers’ rights, and educate people at home and abroad about the power of whistleblowers in combatting fraud and corruption.
This year, the NWC was selected as a Grand Prize Winner in the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, an initiative of USAID in partnership with the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and TRAFFIC. NWC’s Grand Prize-Winning solution, the Secure Internet Wildlife Crime Reporting System, is a secure online platform, a one-stop shop through which whistleblowers can safely and anonymously file reports of wildlife crimes and gain useful information about how wildlife whistleblower laws work. This Reporting System is part of NWC’s newest campaign, The Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program—an effort to empower whistleblowers worldwide in the fight against wildlife trafficking and other wildlife crime.
In addition to NWC’s pioneering work in establishing the Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program, NWC Executive Director Stephen M. Kohn (Kohn) advocated for whistleblowers before the Senate and the House Judiciary Committees, urging Congress to protect FBI whistleblowers by advancing the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). In the past week, a truncated version of the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2016 passed in both the House and the Senate, and now awaits the President’s signature. While the full FBI WPEA was blocked, this vital piece of that legislation passed unanimously and will protect FBI employees who disclose wrongdoing to their direct supervisors. This rare victory is part of NWC’s 20-year effort to strengthen FBI whistleblower protections. Additionally, Kohn recently testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding H.R. 5499— legislation that would have a devastating impact on existing whistleblower programs by requiring Congress to approve every whistleblower award through the appropriations process. After hearing Kohn’s testimony, the Committee promised to add a friendly amendment to protect whistleblower rights.
In 2016, the NWC also continued to defend against major corporate interests who sought to weaken anti-fraud laws and eviscerate whistleblower rights. In one instance, the NWC dealt with a major loophole in the tax whistleblower reward law that would have prevented whistleblowers who turned in the very worst criminal actors from participating in IRS’s whistleblower reward program—leaving criminal tax fraud untouched by the IRS whistleblower program and removing a powerful incentive for reporting these crimes. After four years of campaigning on this issue, the NWC successfully secured a ruling from the Tax Court closing the loophole and clarifying that tax whistleblowers are entitled to rewards based on money collected in criminal fines and penalties.
The NWC also defended the False Claims Act (FCA), America’s premier law punishing actions that defraud the U.S. government before the Supreme Court. The NWC wrote amici briefs in two major False Claims Act cases in 2016: Universal Health Services v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, and State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v. U.S. ex rel. Rigsby. In Escobar, NWC argued that when doctors submit bills to Medicare and Medicaid for their services, they are implying that they are licensed and qualified to provide patient care. In Rigsby, where State Farm was fighting to avoid a $758,000 judgment for the fraud it committed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, NWC advanced a powerful argument that the FCA’s seal provision was designed for the exclusive benefit of the Government, and mandatory dismissal for seal violations would ultimately hurt taxpayers—the intended beneficiaries of the False Claims Act. In each case, the Supreme Court sided with the arguments advanced in NWC’s amicus brief, issuing unanimous rulings in both decisions.
This year, NWC also made strides in educating the world about whistleblower rights. Executive Director Stephen Kohn published the first article that details the intersection between wildlife protection and whistleblower law, “Monetary Rewards for Wildlife Whistleblowers: A Game-Changer in Wildlife Trafficking Detection and Deterrence.” It was named the Environmental Law Reporter’s best article of 2016. The NWC also made presentations on whistleblower rights and reward programs before large, international audiences, including at a massive multinational conference in Belgrade, Serbia, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Congress in Hawaii, and through several international webinars.
Now, and always, the NWC is here to support whistleblowers. Please read and share NWC’s 2016 End-of-Year Report, and consider making a tax-deducible donation to the NWC so that it may continue to fight for whistleblowers. Donate today: http://bit.ly/2eDvf2Z.