Whistleblowers Divided Over Lawsuit
"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city."
Those words from President Obama today, his first full day as boss-in-chief, might be particularly welcome to those fighting for the rights of whistleblowers -- in this case, private sector employees who reveal fraud, waste and abuse in government contracts.
But the whistleblower camp now is divided over a provision of the False Claims Act that some advocates contend prevents the public from learning about such charges.
The ACLU of Virginia, the Government Accountability Project and OMB Watch have filed suit in federal court, asking it to stop the government from enforcing provisions of the law that automatically keeps complaints under seal and prohibits those who file the complaints from discussing them.
“There are plenty of procedures Congress or the courts could adopt to preserve the interest of privacy when it is warranted without enlisting the courts in a blanket scheme that automatically gags people who have information about possible abuse of taxpayer dollars,” said Chris Hansen, senior attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group.
But others who advocate for whistleblowers have a different view. Stephen M. Kohn, president of the National Whistleblower Center, said the lawsuit should be withdrawn.
"Allowing employee whistleblowers to file a case under 'seal' can protect a whistleblower from retaliation," Kohn said. "Whistleblowers need the seal to allow them to bring their concerns confidentially to the government."
The Whistleblower Center and the other groups often work together and have joined in a letter to Obama that calls on him to support legislation that would increase protection for whistleblowers.
For more information, see tomorrow's Federal Diary, which will be posted here tonight and published in The Washington Post tomorrow.
January 21, 2009; 3:22 PM ET
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