Whistleblowers Remain Unwelcome at the White House

I never gave anybody hell! I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.

-Harry S. Truman

In April 2013, Jonathan Landay, a reporter for McClatchy, the third-largest newspaper publisher in the United States, published a report that the Obama administration assassinated hundreds of lower-level Afghan and Pakistani militants in drone strikes. The story directly contradicted previous government statements. Concerned about how the Obama administration has pursued other whistleblowers, Landay admitted that he thinks that the government might pursue him for his sources.

In spite of signing an expansion of the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Whitehouse has reacted harshly to government leaks and whistleblowers.

The U.S. Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act

The U.S. Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) was passed in 2012 with the intention to strengthen the original 1989 Federal Whistleblower Act. WPEA attempts to further protect the whistleblower by:

  • Providing additional protection for one who blows the whistle on government misconduct. A scientist who challenges government censorship or an official who questions government policy is protected by the new law.
  • Offering better judicial processes.  Under the previous law, the Federal Court of Appeals had exclusive jurisdiction on Whistleblower Protection Act cases and ruled in support of the whistleblower in 3 out of 229 cases. Now other courts have appellate authority as well.
  • Giving other governmental agencies wider roles in whistleblower matters. For example, agencies such as the Office of Special Counsel and the Government Accountability Office are now permitted to file briefs in support of employees filing WPEA claims.

Whistleblowing in the Obama Years

Although as a presidential candidate Obama exalted whistleblowers, as the commander-in-chief, he has put the clamps on those who reveal governmental misconduct. Obama's administration prosecuted former National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake under the Espionage Act for going to the press with evidence of wasteful overspending in an intelligence program. John Kiriakou was also pursued by Obama's government for violating the Espionage Act because he spoke out against the use of torture on suspected terrorists. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer describes the secrecy that she was required to maintain while writing about Thomas Drake was not befitting of a country whose constitution protects free speech.

Hesitant to blow the whistle to the only outlet

Drake contends that in the Obama years, revealing truth to power is a criminal act.  As a result, would-be whistleblowers may be hesitant to speak to the press.  Jonathan Landay described how sources that used to speak freely are now reluctant or extra careful when relaying information.  Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project On Government Oversight claims that many have told her they are simply too afraid to blow the whistle.

In a climate that is perceived to be hostile to whistleblowers, it is crucial to consult with a whistleblower attorney who will ensure that you avail yourself of all legal protections before blowing the whistle.