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Most conscientious employees, especially federal workers, would cringe at being labeled a whistleblower. An honest civil servant just does the job the taxpayers are paying for, with no need to badmouth the agency to outsiders. If there's a problem, fix it. Right?
Sometimes, however, working within the system fails. Maybe the boss just won't listen to any suggestions, or answer any questions. Maybe the boss likes to help friends now outside the government, or wastes a lot of money, or simply decides not to gather a specific kind of very relevant data. Sometimes, ways of "getting things done" manage to avoid all the protections of the public interest that the agency is supposed to enforce (and tells everyone it is enforcing). Othertimes, the issue is reporting workplace harassment, or public health and safety violations. Occasionally, something definitely illegal or corruption is going on.
Not rocking the boat is safe. But hiding the truth can carry an internal price: stress, worry, even physical illness. Most whistleblowers, especially federal government whistleblowers, first try reform through authorized channels. Some choose to work or blow the whistle outside the problem system in order to better protect themselves. Cover-ups are quite possible with internal whistleblowing. These pages clarify the choices between protection and correction. Links assist conscientious employee reporters experiencing retaliation or harassment for speaking truths others cannot or will not.
In an ideal world, bucking a problem up the chain of command gets it solved. However, sometimes the worse the problem, the more extensive the denial or cover-up. Conflicting interests and limited resources are par for the course in any agency. The best managers value brainstorming, creativity and ethics. Still, not every supervisor is eager to evaluate options or consider contradictions or even respect First Amendment rights. Some bosses consider any question or suggestion a personal threat, unproductive or making waves. A few bully bosses may even harass or retaliate against conscientiously ethical subordinates.