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Whistleblowers pump up transparency

Published: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 11:19 a.m. CDT

No matter how good the laws are written or how well-intentioned public policies are prescribed, Uncle Sam’s coffers have long been viewed as open season for bad operators who look to line their own pockets on the taxpayer’s dime.

Unfortunately, unaccountable and complex payments systems within the federal bureaucracy are like ducks on a pond for unscrupulous operators trolling big-budget defense and health care contracts, for example.  Plenty of crooked figures have found a way to pluck Uncle Sam’s goose.

Fortunately, conscientious insiders working in the trenches of the federal bureaucracy have blown the whistle on dodgy gimmicks that take the taxpaying public for a ride, such as illegal kickbacks in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  At the same time, citizens in the private sector who report tax dodgers benefit law-abiding taxpayers who otherwise are forced to shoulder a greater tax burden.

Rousting wrongdoers from the shadows into the light of day is a courageous act of civic duty. Whistleblowers deserve a place of honor and gratitude in the public eye.  In fact, I’ve called upon this White House and previous administrations to hold a Rose Garden ceremony honoring these unsung heroes.  Last summer, I introduced a Senate resolution that would observe National Whistleblower Day on the anniversary of the nation’s first-ever whistleblower protection laws enacted on July 30, 1778.

Far from receiving praise and admiration, whistleblowers typically are treated like skunks at a Sunday afternoon picnic.  Those with the courage to come forward to tell the truth often face retribution and reprisals.

For the last three decades, I have championed bipartisan, bicameral laws that create incentives for whistleblowers and remove bureaucratic barriers. Whistleblowers shouldn’t be wronged for trying to make things right.    

No matter which political party controls the White House, the federal bureaucracy tends to circle the wagons when it comes to congressional oversight.  In fact, it appears that most federal agencies continue to use “non-disclosure agreements” despite the 18-month-old law that prohibits them.

This reflects an embarrassingly weak effort by the administration that promised to have “unprecedented” transparency.  Transparency changes behavior.  Considering the sweeping health care and surveillance policies implemented under this administration’s watch that significantly increase the size and scope of the federal government, we need more transparency, not less.

Let’s give thanks to the legion of individual whistleblowers whose good works have exposed wrongdoing across-the-board, from the Pentagon, to the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the IRS, the Interior Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, just to name a few.

Instead of turning a blind eye to the good works of whistleblowers, the top dogs in the executive branch need to learn a lesson.  Treating a whistleblower like a skunk at a picnic only worsens the smell of waste, fraud, mismanagement and abuse.

As another Tax Day comes and goes, taxpayers are tired of standing downwind from a bureaucratic culture that allows fraud to go unreported. 

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