At first glance, the recent Senate passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package warrants applause, and it does. But with trillions of taxpayer dollars likely to flow out of Washington for federal infrastructure projects, we need government witnesses of waste, fraud, corruption and mismanagement to be able to signal problems as soon as possible without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, the system to protect those whistleblowers is not working, and until it does — we can’t expect those individuals to put their livelihoods on the line to protect tax dollars.
The United States doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to protecting and uplifting whistleblowers, despite their bravery and the crucial role whistleblowers play in any modern democracy.
Local whistleblowers — ordinary folks with an extraordinary level of bravery and integrity — have made a significant difference in the lives of Michiganders. Years ago, LeeAnne Walters and Marc Edwards, a mother and a scientist, respectively, unveiled the extent of contamination of Flint water. Out of concern and care for their fellow citizens, they uncovered evidence that the city had permitted dangerous levels of lead and other toxic substances to contaminate drinking water for more than a year. Their actions forced then-Gov. Rick Snyder to finally deal with the problem.
But their heroic actions were not taken without risk. Those who are brave enough to come forward and report wrongdoing are still routinely attacked by both politicians and the media, demoted or fired, or subjected to intimidation or investigation. Telling the truth, an act that should be normal in any government run by and for people, often endangers those committed to holding it accountable.
To preserve the sanctity of local and national governments, the federal government must address these injustices against those who speak the truth and strengthen its whistleblower protections to ensure a functioning democracy for generations to come.
Congress can make significant progress in this mission by passing the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act, which would increase whistleblower protections and better ensure that those committed to holding government officials accountable can do so without losing their jobs. Independent organizations, like the Project On Government Oversight, that have worked in support of whistleblowers for decades support this legislation.
I encourage Rep. Peter Meijer to show his support for whistleblowers by cosponsoring this legislation. In doing so, he can ensure that those who are committed to unveiling wrongdoing through whistleblowing are better supported and protected in the future.