2013 is almost out the door. The year, so far, may be coined the “year of the whistleblower.” Chelsea Manning will be sentenced, Edward Snowden is still on the run and the government has recovered billions of dollars thanks to whistleblowers. The government and this administration’s relationship to whistleblowers can be characterized, at best, as severely conflicted.
Corporate whistleblowers and individuals coming forward to protect the government from fraud are conferred special protections and incentives under the False Claims Act. This law provides that individuals with knowledge of an entity having received payments for false claims submitted to the government may sue on the government’s behalf to recover those funds. If successful, those suing on behalf of the government are then eligible to share in the potential recovery.
“The protections that are afforded to these false claims whistleblowers are important,” commented Christopher Paulos, an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio law firm who practices in the areas of qui tam or whistleblower and False Claims Act litigation. “Whistleblowers come forward to protect the government and taxpayers from the fraudulent behavior of hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, government contractors, or any other industry that routinely bills the government. It’s high stakes, these individuals often come forward at risk to their own personal and professional peril. It is important that they are protected and rewarded for their brave actions.”
The Department of Justice reported that it recovered over $5 billion through False Claims Act cases in 2012 alone. In the past few months, the agency has reported convictions and settlements of $13 million, $20 million, and $48 million for healthcare fraud. These numbers don’t even include other types of fraud (military contract fraud, education fraud, etc.) that false claims whistleblowers can reveal. The government makes great recoveries thanks solely to these whistleblowers and the whistleblowers that are successful tend to benefit greatly from the funds recovered for the government. The Department of Justice has been quoted as saying, “The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Global Fraud studies and the Department of Justice recovery data all demonstrate that tips from whistleblowers, particularly employee-whistleblowers, are the single most effective fraud fighting tool available.”
Unfortunately, the story for political whistleblowers is rarely one of personal triumph rewarded by a thankful government. As is the case with Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, individuals that both felt they were doing a greater service to their country by incurring personal strife and exposing the information that they each had access too, only to instead by prosecuted and pursued by their government.
Chelsea Manning’s disclosures began a national discussion of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and of government whistleblowing at large. Edward Snowden’s whistle, which sounded more like fog horn, blared forth with a resounding public indictment of the National Security Agency’s data collection process and the telecommunications industry at large; the privacy intrusion and implications of which may not be fully appreciated for years to come.
The secrecy that companies seeking to defraud the government hope for, and the secrecy that governments carrying out constitutional violations hope for, are both undone by the same thing: whistleblowers.
Whether they’re “patriots” or “traitors” depends simply on whose wrongful conduct is being exposed.
One thing that cannot be denied is the powerful and permanent change that the a whistleblower’s actions can effectuate.