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Ask Your Government: Whistleblowing Tips

By Ed O'Keefe

Ask Your Government

This week's "Ask Your Government" question comes from Google Moderator user Veritas:

"Has any federal agency set up an online system so that any of their employees can report on government waste in a totally anonymous way so that he/she won't be punished?"

YES! All of the cabinet departments and most federal agencies have ways for government employees or anyone else to report on waste, fraud and abuse, though not always anonymously.

For starters, there's the Web site of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which solicits online tips on waste, fraud and abuse and recently established a Financial Crisis Tipline. It also encourages phone calls and tips through regular mail. While the committee accepts anonymous tips, one staffer noted that tips without a name or contact information can create problems when investigators attempt to follow up. Still, the staffer said anonymous tips have led to serious investigations.

The Government Accountability Office's FraudNET, part of its Forensic Audits and Special Investigations Team, accepts tips online, by phone or by mail.

The inspectors general of each cabinet department and most agencies also have online tip forms and telephone hotlines. (See a full list after the jump). The Commerce Department has one of the most web-friendly and detailed online submission forms, providing options for each Commerce bureau and the option of submitting information confidentially or anonymously.

A word of caution however: Raising awareness of waste, fraud and abuse can have dire consequences for the whistleblower. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) (three groups with awesome acronyms) have co-authored a whistleblowing "how-to" manual called, "The Art of Anonymous Activism: Serving the Public While Surviving Public Service." The title of the manual's first chapter says it all: ""Blowing the Whistle May Be Hazardous to Your Professional Health." Here are three reasons why:

1.) It Is Not a Fair Fight: "One person against an entire agency or government is a David versus Goliath struggle. In terms of raw power, the agency holds all the cards."

2.) It Often Misses The Point: "When agency employees go public with tales of malfeasance, the media spotlight often focuses on a personality to the expense of the issue."

3.) It Often Takes the Best and Brightest Out of the Agencies: "Even the most successful whistleblowers end up leaving the agency, too disheartened to pursue their chosen career. The scar tissue caused by waging the battle often exceeds the fruits of the victory."

Order the book online or read the first chapter for free on POGO's Web site.

In spite of potential career difficulties for whistleblowers, GAP, PEER, federal workers unions and other groups do provide assistance for whistleblowers.

Do YOU have a question for or about the federal government? Sign up for the "Ask Your Government" Google Moderator group, send your query to federaleye@washingtonpost.com or ask away in the comment section below.

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Ways to Blow the Whistle:

Government Tip Lines:

The Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General Hotline

The Department of Commerce Online Hotline Complaint Form

The Department of Defense Inspector General Defense Hotline

Department of Education Office of Inspector General Hotline

Department of Energy Office of Inspector General Hotline

Environmental Protection Agency Hotline

Government Accountability Office FraudNET

Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Hotline

Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General Hotline

Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General Hotline

The Department of Interior Office of Inspector General Fraud Hotline

Department of Justice Office of Inspector General

Department of Labor Office of Inspector General Hotline

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Hotline

Department of State Office of Inspector General

Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General Hotline

Department of the Treasury Office of Inspector General Hotline

Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General Hotline

Other Groups:

Citizens Against Government Waste Got Waste? Site

National Whistleblowers Center -- an advocacy organization with a 20-year history of protecting the right to speak out about workplace issues without fear of retaliation.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility "Blow the Whistle" Page

The Federal Eye: federaleye@washingtonpost.com

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 13, 2009; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Ask Your Government, Oversight  
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Next: Eye Opener: Feb. 13, 2009

Comments

There is another factor that one should consider before becoming a "whistleblower" which is that the established processes for exposing waste, fraud and abuse may be compromised in certain agencies. We have witnessed an Inspector General who, over a period of years, has worked to not only protect the criminal activities of an agency head and his cronies, but who has also worked to identify and expose anyone who may have filed an anonymous complaint regarding these illegal activities. This has meant the loss to the federal government, in at least one instance, of hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally pocketed by certain federal employees, with "whistleblowers" being forced out of their jobs. The honesty and integrity in the operation of the federal government is intended to be guarded by various "watchdog" entities but there does not appear to be any consistent system for ensuring that these alleged guardians are performing their functions properly.

Posted by: CriticalEye | February 13, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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