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Support Congressional Staff: Help Congress Help Whistleblowers

Staff for Members of Congress regularly come into contact with whistleblowers, and need support to best receive and refer whistleblower information.
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Congressional Staff Interact with Hundreds and Thousands of Whistleblowers Each Year

The staff of a Member of Congress are often on the front lines of interacting with whistleblowers. These whistleblowers, most often federal employees who have blown the whistle on fraud and corruption, and who as a result have experienced retaliation for their bravery, reach out for help to their Senator or Representative. Staff members of all levels and expertise receive these whistleblowers, and do their best to listen to the whistleblower and help them in their struggle.

Yet the current system for Congress receiving information from whistleblowers is inconsistent and offers inadequate support for the offices of the Members of Congress. Each Congressmember’s office may have different procedures and training on the issue, and may interact with whistleblowers in a different way. An office may not adequately keep the confidentiality of a whistleblower, even as they in fact are doing their best to assist. Staff members may have different expertise and experience, and for the whistleblower, the likelihood that they may not get help is too high.

U.S. Government Accountability Office Outlines Best Practices for Whistleblowing and Congress

In May 2019, after nearly a year of research and review, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has released a report outlining best practices for how Congressional staff should appropriately handle information from whistleblowers. Titled “Key Practices for Congress to Consider When Receiving and Referring Information,” the report focuses on what happens when federal whistleblowers reach out to their representatives in Congress, whether in the House or Senate, for help. The GAO produced the report on the request of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

Stephen M. Kohn, leading whistleblower law expert and Chairman of the Board of the National Whistleblower Center, has represented whistleblowers for over 30 years. Kohn noted that,

“The risk of reprisals that whistleblowers continue to face when their identity is exposed is unacceptable. From the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Continental Congress to the 116th Congress today, the data proves that whistleblowers are the best way to stop fraud and corruption. It’s encouraging to see this report take seriously the risks faced by whistleblowers, and the entire whistleblower community looks forward to seeing Congress enact further reforms to help federal whistleblowers. The best practices and key issues highlighted in the GAO report should serve as guideposts for whistleblowing to Congress moving forward.”

The Whistleblower Protection Blog published a blog post by NWC Policy Counsel Maya Efrati on the GAO’s report. Click here to read the blog post and learn more about the importance of this GAO report.

The House and Senate Should have a Whistleblower Ombudsman Office

The National Whistleblower Center strongly believes that a Whistleblower Ombudsman Office is a crucial component in fixing this broken system. In collaboration with several other whistleblower and good governance groups, the National Whistleblower Center has advocated to Congress to create such an office. The House has committed to doing so.

Read the letter in which whistleblower advocates praise the creation of the House office and cite the need for an independent leader here.

The Whistleblower Ombudsman will work to assist the staff members who work for Congress. The creation of this position will ensure that staff have sufficient training and resources to ensure that they know the best practices for interacting with whistleblowers. And, whistleblowers will have stronger protections from Congress while the system becomes more efficient and effective.

The GAO’s Key Practices for Congress to Consider When Receiving and Referring Information lays out the crucial components and best practices that Congress should follow while creating the Whistleblower Ombudsman Office. Whistleblowers must know that their confidentiality will be respected, and that staff members in Congress know what resources they have to help whistleblowers. Use of the best practices researched and published by the GAO will ensure that the Ombudsman will be as effective as possible, making the halls of Congress a place that truly supports and celebrates whistleblowers.

 

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