WASHINGTON, D.C.—The bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Caucus hosted a “Whistleblower 101” educational workshop on Thursday morning. The event, held in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, featured a panel of experts from Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC), National Security Agency (NSA), and Department of Justice (DOJ). Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) Stephen M. Kohn was the moderator of the panel.
The room was jam-packed. Audience members overflowed into the hallway, trying to get a view of the speakers. There were five members of the panel: Michael Horowitz, Inspector General of the DOJ; Henry Kerner, Special Counsel in the OSC; Robert Storch, Inspector General at the NSA; Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy at POGO; and TSA whistleblower and Federal Air Marshal Robert MacLean.
MacLean started off the conversation by providing the group with a brief background of his experience blowing the whistle on the Department of Homeland Security. The audience listened closely to MacLean as he outlined the eight-and-a-half-year ordeal that he experienced because of retaliatory investigations by TSA managers. His long battle with the TSA eventually took him to the Supreme Court, where a 7-2 decision ruled in his favor.
Kohn then gave a brief introduction on the importance of whistleblowing and why educating people about their whistleblower rights is essential. “The biggest issue with whistleblowing is it is not understood. Most hear about it in newspapers or on the internet but don’t understand how vital the whistleblower is,” Kohn said.
A leading objective of the morning was to help people understand whistleblowing and its value to government agencies in rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse. Kerner addressed Kohn’s point about the lack of public knowledge about whistleblowing and mentioned a need for a “change in the culture” surrounding whistleblowing. Hempowicz spoke about best practices and policies she promotes at POGO that will “fight corruption and encourage an open and honest government environment.” Horowitz talked about whistleblowers as an “invaluable source” of information for combatting fraud and corruption.
A point brought up several times during the course of the morning was the issue of not holding higher-ups in the federal government and in the private sector accountable. All the panelists agreed that this is imperative to preventing corruption and fraud in the future and to encourage more whistleblowers to step forward. “Holding people accountable is just as critical as reprisal,” added Storch.
The audience was made up of staff members from Capitol Hill and public officials from various federal agencies. A few curious onlookers stuck their heads in as they walked by the room. Among the crowd were folks who had blown the whistle themselves, those who were there to share their stories, and advocates for the advancement of the whistleblower protections.
Kohn closed out the panel by reminding the room why safeguarding whistleblowers benefits everyone. “Whistleblowing is the number one source of all fraud detection. Period. You have to protect your most valuable resource,” Kohn said, “the whistleblower.”