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Question of the Week — Should Public Sector Whistleblowers Receive Awards for Exposing Wrongdoing?

Posted  August 31, 2018

Since the American Civil War, when the False Claims Act (FCA) was passed, private citizens have been permitted to bring lawsuits on behalf of the government to fight fraud. Common examples include lawsuits regarding the overbilling of federally funded healthcare programs and defense contracts attempting to defraud the armed forces. Under the FCA, whistleblowers are awarded 15-30% of whatever the government recovers based on the information they provided. The FCA has been a very successful antifraud measure billions of dollars are recovered under the law annually.

However, despite the potential award, the decision to become a whistleblower isn’t easy. Being a whistleblower can affect careers and often risks retaliation. Sometimes, companies being sued under the law even try to black ball whistleblowers out of entire industries.

Whistleblowers who reveal wrongdoing while employed in public-sector face very similar risks, and although they are usually protected by anti-retaliation laws (often ineffectively), they generally cannot receive an award. For example, in 2015 two doctors who worked for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in Phoenix revealed massive, taxpayer-funded, mismanagement. According to the whistleblowers, the VA was so mismanaged that that dozens of veterans died while waiting months for simple screenings. The doctors took enormous risks to come forward. A recent study showed that  VA whistleblowers are 10 times likelier to be disciplined than their peers. Despite all that, these whistleblowers generally had no chance to receive an award.

What do you think?

Should public-sector employees be eligible for whistleblower awards?

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