WHAT IT IS
- A whistleblower is "an employee who brings wrongdoing by an employer or other employees to the attention of a government or law enforcement agency..." [Merriam-Webster]
- "Retaliation" against a whistleblower is illegal. [The New York Times]
- A whistleblower is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Action (WPA) of 1989. [Congressional Research Service]
- Congress has expanded protections to 19 different federal agencies with the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. [Congressional Research Service]
According to the WPA, a whistleblower is protected if he or she "lawfully disclose information they reasonably believe evidences:
- a violation of law, rule, or regulation;
- gross mismanagement;
- a gross waste of funds;
- an abuse of authority;
- or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety."
The U.S. has been protecting whistleblowers since 1777. Learn more with HISTORY.
WHY IT MATTERS
SOCIAL: Protecting individuals who see and report wrongdoing is critically important for the protection of free speech.
CIVICS: Whistleblowing is another form of oversight or a way to keep those in power from abusing their position.
Retaliation against a whistleblower is illegal. Retaliation could be:
- Loss of employment, or being fired
- Demotions, or pay cuts
- Threats [NPR]
There is no legal protection to keep the whistleblower's identity anonymous. [Congressional Research Service]
Some members of Congress believe that revealing the identity is a form of retaliation and is therefore illegal. [The Washington Post]
First Amendment (free speech) activity is also protected by the Privacy Act of 1974.
There are different levels or versions of protections dependent on the department the employee works for. This relates to how the whistleblower provides the complaint if they follow the law or not in doing so.
For example, intelligence employees (ie: CIA, FBI, NSA) have highly complex and more constraints to the complaint process compared to those working for less classified agencies like the EPA or FDA. [The Washington Post]
If the whistleblower does not follow the law (aka "leak" information), they do not receive the protections granted under law. [Congressional Research Service]
Many political experts believe the whistleblower protections and Privacy Act are not as robust as they should be. [Politico]
FACT: NOT A TRAITOR
Not a traitor
The DOJ states, "whistleblower perform an important service for the public." [Department of Justice]
1778 Congress said it is “the duty of all persons in the service of the United States … to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.” [The Washington Post]
Not a leaker
Whistleblowers are not "leakers." They are required by law to follow specific guidelines to report misconduct. [Department of Justice]
For whistleblowers in the intelligence community, reports are:
- handled by the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG),
- the ICIG has 14 days to determine if the complaint is "credible,"
- If credible, the report is given to the Director of National Intelligence,
- Director of National Intelligence has 7 days to give the report to Congress. [The Washington Post]
There is a specific law protecting intelligence whistleblowers, the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998.
Whistleblowers are required to only report violations of law, not opinions or political schemes. [Forbes]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
- Sep. 2019: A whistleblower from the CIA was at the heart of the impeachment trial of President Trump. [The Associated Press]
- President Trump demanded to meet the whistleblower, has implied that he or she is a traitor, and is trying to uncover the identity of the whistleblower. [The New York Times], [PBS]
- Jan. 2020: During the impeachment trial in the Senate, Cheif Justice John Roberts blocked a question from being heard that contained the alleged whistleblower's name. [Politico]
- Feb. 2020: A whistleblower submitted a complaint to HHS that safety protocols were violated when working with quarantined coronavirus patients. [The Wall Street Journal]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- More questions about specific whistleblower programs and protections exist. Dive into frequently asked questions from the National Whistleblower Center.
- Should revealing the identity of a whistleblower be illegal?
Learn about 10 famous or infamous whistleblowers with Politico.
- Concerned about the CIA whistleblower? Contact your representative with Common Cause and demand protections be upheld.
- Is there anything we can learn from the Watergate whistleblower history? Watch The Washington Post video to learn more.