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July 30 Is National Whistleblower Appreciation Day -- Have You Thanked A Whistleblower Lately?

Posted  July 28, 2023

July 30 is National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.  Thanks to Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), co-heads of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, it is the tenth year in a row for this annual marker to celebrate whistleblowers and the critical role they play in protecting our health and well-being.  In announcing their bipartisan resolution designating this special day, the senators did not mince words in their warm embrace for whistleblowers and the need for the government to support and protect them at every turn:

  • The cornerstone of the United States’ government is accountability to the people it serves.  Whistleblowers put their jobs and reputations on the line to uphold that bedrock principle.  Our laws should empower their oversight and ensure they can come forward without fear of retribution.  Protecting whistleblowers is good government, plain and simple, and that’s something we can all get behind.  [Grassley]
  • Whistleblowers are brave individuals who sound the alarm on fraud, waste, and abuse of public resources.  It’s time for Congress to step up and support whistleblowers by strengthening laws that allow them to raise issues without fear of retaliation.  Whistleblowers are the fail-safe for our government and I’ll fight tooth and nail to shore up protections that bolster our democratic institutions.  [Wyden]

July 30 is the celebrated day because on this day in 1778, the Continental Congress passed the country’s first whistleblower law.  It followed the jailing of two American sailors who reportedly blew the whistle on their commander for torturing British soldiers.  The newly formed government wanted to show its clear support for speaking truth to power by making it “the duty of all persons in the service of the United States . . . to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct . . . committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”

In a Commentary he wrote for the Star Tribune last year, Constantine Cannon partner Gordon Schnell explained why this day is so important and why it deserves so much more attention than it usually receives.  As Schnell wrote, the Day is not “just another made-up holiday to celebrate the peculiar passions or pastimes of a particularly fervent few.”  Instead, it is a special day to honor whistleblowers and the critical role they play in keeping us safe and sound.

It is especially important these days because of the significant scorn and retaliation whistleblowers continue to face for stepping up and trying to do the right thing in the face of bad behavior.  Look no further than how they are depicted in our everyday vernacular through Merriam-Webster and Thesaurus.com.  The vast majority of synonyms they use to represent whistleblowers to their tens of millions of monthly visitors are deeply derogatory: Betrayer, Bigmouth, Fink, Rat, Sleazemonger, Snitch, Squealer, Stoolie, Tattletale, Troublemaker, just to name a few.

This despite the ever-expanding number of programs Congress has created in bi-partisan fashion to protect and reward whistleblowers — fraud against the government (False Claims Act); securities fraud (SEC Whistleblower Program); commodities fraud (CFTC Whistleblower Program); tax fraud (IRS Whistleblower Program); auto safety fraud (NHTSA Whistleblower Program); money laundering and sanctions violations (AML and Kleptocracy Whistleblower Program).  And more.

But as Schnell underscored in his opinion piece, no matter how much legislation Congress puts forth supporting whistleblowers, “until we truly welcome them and their noble quests with open arms and understanding, their persecution and mistreatment will continue, scaring off others from stepping forward in the face of fraud or injustice.”

So a big shout out to Senators Grassley and Wyden, and their bipartisan team of whistleblower supporters for creating this special day for ten years and running.  How nice it would be to go even further with an even more prominent and pervasive recognition of the critical role of whistleblowers.  One adopted by all of Congress, hailed by the private sector, and embraced by the rest of us in gratitude to these front-line fraud fighters for their sacrifice and service.

We all can do our part by honoring these modern-day heroes.  Not just on July 30.  But in our everyday lives.  Especially in Corporate America.  No more ignoring whistleblowers or alienating them or punishing them for raising the alarm, as sadly is so often the case.  Hear them out instead.  Investigate and address their concerns.  It will save a whole lot of trouble down the road.  And we all will be the better for it.

So if you have not already done so, thank a whistleblower for a job well done.  You never know, you just might be a whistleblower yourself one day.  It happens all the time.

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