On January 16, advocacy groups sent a letter to President Biden urging him to support whistleblowers; the letters highlight the case of Commander Kimberly Young-McLear, Ph.D., a Coast Guard whistleblower who exposed discrimination, bullying, and harassment.
The letter is co-signed by National Whistleblower Center (NWC), Protect Our Defenders, Modern Military Association of America, Whistleblowers of America, and Walk the Talk Foundation. It first highlights the importance of federal whistleblowers throughout history and then underscores the challenges whistleblowers face. “Despite the incredible contributions whistleblowers make, they are often retaliated against and left to cope with a lifetime of deleterious consequences and traumas from the accumulation of psychological, financial, and emotional toll–without closure,” the letter states.
The letter then recalls Commander McLear’s story and whistleblowing journey: she is currently serving in active duty in her 19th year in the Coast Guard. She “served as special assistant to the cabinet Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security on a range of emergent domestic and international challenges and “spearheaded numerous internal Coast Guard policy changes including first in military to remove the prohibition for locs & similar natural hair styles for Black active-duty women, as well as strengthening LGBTQ+ protections and dignity,” among other important initiatives.
In 2014, Commander Young-McLear blew the whistle when she reported “gross and unlawful misconduct” at the Coast Guard. “She exposed systemic abuses of power at the highest levels of the Coast Guard, revealing loopholes and disregard to how sexual assault, bullying, harassment, discrimination, retaliation cases are handled,” the letter states. According to the document, “there has never been a single Coast Guard official held accountable, despite the reality that the senseless and indisputable abuses she endured were substantiated by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform (previously chaired by the late Congressman Elijah Cummings), and the House Committee on Homeland Security Committee (previously chaired by Congressman Bennie Thompson).”
“We call on you to show your support for whistleblowers, and their centrality to your efforts to safeguard U.S. national security interests by inviting whistleblower advocates to the White House for a roundtable dedicated to whistleblower issues and federal whistleblower protections,” the letter asks. The groups also ask for Commander Young-McLear’s involvement in the event “and that her recognition and formal apology for the abuse and retaliation she endured–and continues to endure–as a whistleblower be central to this meeting.”
The groups also ask that Biden permanently designate July 30th as National Whistleblower Day and issue a Presidential Proclamation recognizing the date as a Federal Day of Observance. The U.S. Senate passes a resolution each year designating July 30 as National Whistleblower Day, but the advocacy groups are asking for a permanent day of recognition. “This day of recognition has long been celebrated by advocacy groups in the United States and for the tenth year it will be recognized by the U.S. Senate. We would be grateful to celebrate this ten-year anniversary with you at a signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden,” the letter states.
Currently, Commander Young-McLear is a senior advisor “at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) where her service in contributing to crafting CISA’s first Strategic Plan, agency-wide culture & innovation building, increasing job opportunities for HBCU alumnus and underserved communities, and national cyber workforce development.” She was featured on WNN’s Whistleblower Voices video series, in which she spoke about the whistleblowing community and provided words of support to other whistleblowers.
“It has always been extremely difficult to share any aspect of the abuses I have endured over the last nine years of my military career,” Commander McLear told WNN. “I navigate my life with post-traumatic stress everyday. However, I am doing my part to shine a light not only on the systemic abuses and injustices, but also solutions that drive accountability, justice, healing, and dignity.”
“Commander Kimberly Young-McLear is a champion for diversity and inclusion in the United States government,” Siri Nelson, NWC’s Executive Director, told WNN. “As NWC launches our Recognizing Whistleblowers campaign, she seemed the perfect person to kick off our efforts on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Commander McLear deserves justice, and her commitment to continued contributions to our Nation must be recognized and the retaliation she suffered apologized for.”
Nelson commented on what she wants to see from Biden and his administration in regards to whistleblowers: “I hope President Biden makes National Whistleblower Day a Federal Day of Observance this year. 2023 is the tenth anniversary of the first time the U.S. Senate issued a resolution to recognize July 30th as National Whistleblower Day. Since then, Senator Grassley has spearheaded efforts to gather the U.S. Senate in recognizing National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, year after year. It is time for the President to make it a permanent affair and guarantee federal whistleblower their recognition and ensure federal employees are aware of their rights.”
“The President can do this with a Presidential Proclamation,” she continued. “Ideally the proclamation would be signed during a Rose Garden Ceremony which also honors Commander McLear and other incredible federal whistleblowers like Jane Turner and Fred Whitehurst. Short of a Rose Garden ceremony, President Biden must hold the individuals who retaliated against Commander McLear publicly accountable with formal reprimands and issue a commendation to the Commander for her exceptional service to the United States of America.”