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OUR OPINION: Federal whistleblowers deserve protections

OUR OPINION: Federal whistleblowers deserve protections


At the heart of the impeachment inquiry undertaken by the U.S. House is a complaint from a federal whistleblower about a phone call President Trump made to the president of Ukraine in July.

President Trump and allies have demanded release of the whistleblower's name. One name of an individual alleged to be the whistleblower is in public circulation.

In our view, that's disturbing. Why?  Because we believe whistleblowers should be viewed through a wide lens, not a narrow, partisan lens.

Passed in 1989, the federal Whistleblower Protection Act provides protections for employees of the federal government who report possible wrongdoing such as violations of laws, rules, or regulations, mismanagement, abuse of authority, waste, or danger to public health or safety.

Retaliatory action is considered a violation. Isn't outing the whistleblower, in fact, a form of retaliation?

Debate rages today about whether it's illegal to publicly identify the Ukraine whistleblower. To that, we say: If it isn't against the law to name this, or any, federal whistleblower, it should be - for obvious reasons.

If the intent of the law is to provide protections necessary for individuals to step forward, at great risks, and shine light on possible improper activities of our federal government the rest of us should want to know about, those who do deserve a guarantee of confidentiality - regardless of who the president is or what political party is wielding power in Congress.

Complaints from whistleblowers have saved lives, saved billions of dollars and produced important reforms. Protected whistleblowers represent an invaluable tool in helping keep the federal government honest and accountable.

In 1988, the year before passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Office of Special Counsel (the agency tasked with protection of federal whistleblowers from retaliation) received 120 whistleblower disclosures.  Last year, the office received 1,559 of them.

With any complaint, including the one about the Ukraine call, an investigation to determine the merits of what is alleged by a whistleblower should be conducted without forcing the individual into the public spotlight. To do otherwise sets a troubling precedent for the future.

Our concern is calls for public release of the Ukraine whistleblower's name and the cavalier release of one name by some creates the potential for a chilling impact on others who may be considering blowing the whistle within a federal department or agency. In light of what they have read and heard about the Ukraine matter, they might choose to remain quiet.

And if whistleblowers stop talking, all Americans lose.


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