National Whistleblower Day: Supporting our bold whistleblowers
July 30 is National Whistleblower Day, a day commemorating the 243rd anniversary of our nation’s very first whistleblower law. As we approach this milestone, I hope Americans everywhere can join me in honoring the brave whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing and make our federal government safer, more efficient, and more accountable. Whether by saving taxpayers millions of dollars or identifying life-threatening medical errors, positive change starts with ordinary federal employees embracing their capacity for extraordinary courage.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal agency that works with whistleblowers to expose waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, OSC was born out of the Ethics in Government Act (1978) and charged with protecting the rights of the now-roughly 2.1 million civil servants across the nation and around the world. Our mission includes providing a safe channel for federal employees to make disclosures of agency wrongdoing and, importantly, protecting them from retaliation once they speak up.
Through my tenure as Special Counsel, now in its 4th year, I have discovered that potential whistleblowers must have confidence three things will happen if they come forward: (1) they will be heard, believed, and respected, (2) there is a reasonable chance the underlying problem will be fixed, and (3) they will be protected from retaliation after they speak up. The importance of fostering whistleblower trust in the process cannot be overstated. Fortunately, due to the hard work of OSC’s diligent and talented staff, we have accomplished incredible things with and on behalf of our whistleblowers, ensuring that problems and mismanagement are investigated and addressed.
For example, last year, through whistleblower disclosures to OSC, we helped uncover deficient patient care at various Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, and improper financial accounting that cost American taxpayers millions of dollars. One whistleblower disclosed more than $223 million spent by the VA on unnecessary or non-existent transportation services. Another notified OSC that eligible veterans were not being properly reimbursed for expensive ambulance services. Thanks to these whistleblowers, the VA has taken swift action to improve its financial management and renew its commitment to use taxpayer dollars appropriately.
OSC also worked with whistleblowers to reveal that numerous Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspectors were not adequately trained to certify pilots but were still administering hundreds of certifications for pilots to operate passenger aircraft. These allegations were substantiated by the FAA Office of Audit and Evaluation, calling into question the operational review of several aircraft, including the Boeing 737 MAX and the Gulfstream VII. As Americans return to air travel, proper safety inspection is more vital than ever.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, whistleblowers have played an outsized role in protecting public health and safety, including reports to OSC of insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and dangerous workplaces. In response to a growing number of health-and-safety-related disclosures, we established an internal Coronavirus Taskforce to bring additional resources to our units handling these cases. The Taskforce quickly assesses COVID-related disclosures and refers them for investigation where appropriate. Our employees know that handling these disclosures efficiently could, and did, save lives.
In one important case, a whistleblower disclosed that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had, over the last decade, misappropriated millions of dollars intended for vaccine research and emergency preparedness. This disclosure was particularly timely as Americans relied on HHS to guide medical research and help lead the vaccination effort. Due to the whistleblower’s actions, HHS has initiated both an internal review and an external audit of its funding so that Americans can trust their tax dollars are being spent as Congress intended.
These types of important and consequential disclosures are commonplace for whistleblowers. In every agency, in every part of the country, brave Americans stand up for their ideals and report wrongdoing. And as federal employees begin to return to in-person work this fall, whistleblowers will continue to serve as the eyes and ears on the ground, alerting authorities and OSC to safety issues in the office and rooting out waste and mismanagement. As always, OSC stands ready to fight on their behalf.
That is why, on July 30, for National Whistleblower Day, OSC will join federal agencies and departments across the country in recognizing and honoring whistleblowers. We are proud to support and protect those who uphold their patriotic duties and bravely shine a light on wrongdoing. So, on behalf of the American people and from the bottom of all our hearts here at OSC: Thank you.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is an independent, executive agency charged with protecting the merit system. Appointed by President Trump, Kerner has been Special Counsel since October 2017.