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Official Tricia Newbold has recently become a whistleblower. She contacted a federal government watchdog and Congress to report that senior officials were canceling security clearance denials for White House staff.
It is protected from retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week. Since the coming into force of the law, the number of people reporting wrongdoing by the government has increased – as has bipartisan support for the protection of those who express it.
But it is not without risks. In 2003, Robert MacLean was director of the federal air force. He told the public that the Transportation Security Agency had canceled the flight safety officer's coverage for long-haul flights to offset budget deficits.
"Everyone in my neighborhood and family thought I was crazy and was fighting a futile fight," he told NPR. "It's infuriating because you know what the truth is, and the officials know what the truth is, but they will ignore you."
The TSA reversed its position, but also referred it for publishing information on threats to US aviation. MacLean beat her and won a battle for reinstatement to the Supreme Court in 2015. He was later fired this year.
If a whistleblower reports waste, fraud, abuse, illegality or threats to public health or safety, it is legally recognized.
Over the last three decades, a number of notable and sometimes controversial scare-boosters, such as Dr. David Graham, a researcher with the Food and Drug Administration, have said his agency has ignored warnings that the drug painkiller Vioxx had fatal side effects; and Franz Gayl, a marine body whistleblower who sounded the alarm about the lack of adequate armored vehicles for troops that would protect them from booby traps. In both cases, the government was forced to change its policies.
As the legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a nonpartisan law firm that assists whistleblowers, Tom Devine has worked with approximately 7,000 of them over the past 40 years.
It helps these people tell their stories by providing them with a legal defense – and says that he sees a similar trait in their motivations for becoming public.
"The common feature is that they must act on their knowledge to stay true to themselves," Devine said. "If they do not do it, what they hide is something that will haunt them like cancer in their soul for the rest of their lives, especially if there are consequences of it." They do not speak. "
And more choose to talk. The number of reports against waste, fraud and abuse in federal agencies has increased dramatically over the last thirty years.
The Office of the Special Council, an independent body not affiliated with the Robert Mueller Special Council, is responsible for protecting federal whistleblowers from reprisals.
In 1988, the office received only 120 disclosures from whistleblowers. Last year, the OSC received 1,559 new cases – the fifth year they received more than 1,500.
"When I came to government, whistleblowers were generally seen as crazy or traitors betraying their colleagues," said Devine. "Now, whistleblowers are treated like the eyes and ears of the public."
And as the cultural vision for whistleblowers has changed, legal protections updated over the past 30 years and more recently in 2012 have also evolved..
Representative Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Who chairs the oversight subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the law, says that it is essential to keep the government honest.
"I'm glad we have it, I think it's an important tool for accountability," he told NPR.
At a time when left and right can not agree on legislative priorities or even topics that deserve a congressional inquiry, they agree on the protection of Alert, but for different reasons.
Pete Sepp, National Taxpayers Union Curator, explains that "as a conservative fiscal protection for whistleblowers, we mean the protection of taxpayers". But Shanna DeVine, of the Progressive Public Citizen Advocacy Group, told NPR that "whistleblowers are the public's eyes and ears for abuses of power that betray their trust."
It is this broad consensus, made up of different ideological justifications, that constitutes the greatest guarantee to maintain, or even strengthen, these guarantees in the years to come.