Whistleblower Network News (WNN) has filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to Secretary Buttigieg and the Office of the Secretary of Transportation requesting communications between the Department of Transportation (DOT) and automobile industry lobbyists.
As WNN previously reported, DOT has failed to publish the regulations for a whistleblower reward program that Congress mandated in 2015. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act “required DOT to approve and publish these regulations implementing their whistleblower program on or before July 6, 2016.” In the years since, WNN, along with the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), have called upon DOT to release the regulations, which incentivize auto-manufacturer employees to blow the whistle on life-threatening automobile safety issues. WNN’s FOIA request is designed to learn why DOT and the Secretary of Transportation have decided to delay the publication of rules that are not only potentially life-saving but required by law.
In order to learn more about the process of publishing the regulations, WNN’s FOIA asks for all communication and correspondences between the Secretary and registered lobbyists. In the request, WNN singled out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most influential lobbying groups, because they have opposed whistleblower protections in previous legislation such as the Dodd-Frank Act. Additionally, the Chamber has wielded its immense lobbying strength on Congress on behalf of the automobile industry in the past. Furthermore, WNN is seeking communication between the Secretary and Congress. At the heart of WNN’s inquiry is the question of why the Office of the Secretary has violated the law by delaying publication — and what external parties are influencing that decision.
WNN looks forward to gaining new insights into the decision-making process at DOT. DOT’s decision to delay publicizing the regulations is costly in both potential fraud and in human lives. Learning more about why this decision is being made, and the potential actors who are involved, will shine a light on an otherwise murky picture of political lobbying in the automobile industry. Even more importantly, it will help combat future attempts to slow down or block important whistleblower legislation.
Whistleblower reward laws make the detection and prevention of fraud and abuse easier. These documents will reveal if business interests are manipulating the legislative process, essentially making corruption and hazardous products harder to police.
DOT has ten days to give an initial ruling on WNN’s FOIA request, to which WNN will have the opportunity to appeal and push for immediate action.