Throughout this chaotic year, the government’s treatment of federal employees who blow the whistle has remained consistent: they have been met with retaliation and attempts to discrediting them. In early September, a whistleblower from the Department of Homeland Security made a complaint that he had been demoted for refusing to alter intelligence reports to serve political goals. Late last year, during Trump’s impeachment scandal, the president personally named someone who he claimed was the whistleblower who first filed a complaint disclosing details of the now famous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky. In both cases, federal employees tried to stand up and make an essential disclosure and were not effectively protected from career ruining retaliation or crippling breaches of anonymity.
Whistleblowers who have tried to make disclosures relating to the federal government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have experienced similar treatment. In April, Dr. Rick Bright, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was demoted from his position to a significantly lower one after publicly criticizing the administration’s handling of the crisis. More recently, there have been horrifying whistleblower allegations of mass hysterectomies and squalid, cramped living conditions in ICE detention centers. With every revelation, the public is realizing more and more how vital whistleblowers are.
This year we have seen that if whistleblowers are not protected by strong federal laws that mandate anonymity and outlaw retaliation, they will face exposure and retaliation. The public has taken notice. According to a recent A+ rated Marist poll commissioned by the Whistleblower Network News, an overwhelming 86% of likely voters strongly agree or agree that there should be stronger legal protections for federal employees who report fraud in government programs.
The poll found that although Republicans tend to support enhanced protections for federal whistleblowers at a lower rate of 78% than Democrats did at a slightly higher rate of 94%, the results were surprisingly bipartisan. Over half of both groups agree or strongly agree that we should have stronger protections for government employees who report fraud or misconduct in government programs.
The poll also shows that support stays consistent across different regions of the country. Support for increased federal whistleblower protections was highest in the Northeast at 89.1%, and lowest in the South where 84% of respondents said that they strongly agreed or agreed with the question.
The poll shows that there is widespread bipartisan support for an update of the laws that protect federal employees from retaliation and breaches of anonymity. At a time when many aspects of politics are becoming increasingly partisan, it seems whistleblowing is not.
This Marist poll, done at Marist College, is an A+ rated poll.