Do we need whistleblowers?

The recent scandal with Ukraine and Mr.Trump is one of the dozens of ethical (and legal) scandals that we have seen. Scandal after scandal, it seems like the word scandal is losing its steam. However, this one has a new twist : there is a whistleblower involved.

The American legacy of whistleblowing goes far back, the days of the founding of the republic. Just seven months of signing of the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers passed the world’s first Whistleblower protection act. The U.S. has been a pioneer in this field, as many others.

This act was necessary to protect those government officials who were working under tyrannical bosses or unethical people, who abused the power and authority of the government – either to abuse people or to gain wrongfully from their position, and go unpunished.

As Alison Stranger points out “The whistleblowers who sought protection were 10 American sailors and marines who had reported improper behavior by the Continental Navy’s most powerful man.” This seems to be the guiding principle of why these laws were put in place and continue to exist.

Similarly, Roberta Ann Johnson writes in her book The Whistleblowers that five conditions help explain why this phenomenon exists in the U.S. : 1. Changes in bureaucracy itself 2. Wide range of laws that encourage whistleblowing 3.Federal and state whistleblower protections 4.Institutional support for whistleblowers and 5. A culture that often values whistleblowing (p.4).

Several laws such as the Ethics in Government Act of 1971, Code of Ethics for Government Service and the like were passed that encourage reporting of wrong doing and offer protections to those who do report.

While financial rewards can motivate some whistleblower – the Federal False Claims Act offers 15-25 percent of the money their whistleblowing recovers for a federal agency, many are motivated by a sense of justice and fairness at work.

While the current saga at the U.S. federal level gets sorted out, it is important to keep in mind that whistleblowers are not a nuisance or ‘spies’ but rather a necessity in our democratic society.

Without them, we may lose the moral compass that guides much of public service. We may be lost in the wilderness of corruption, redtape and nepotism.

Whistleblowers, in other words may be our new-age prophets. We better listen to what they have to say!

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