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Ring Holes and Tabs

Outside a Problem System

Reporting to Law Enforcement

Tips from concerned citizens, including federal employees, often begin investigations. Executive agencies are supposed to enforce the laws, especially their inspector general (IG) office or other investigative component. Because human beings make and enforce the rules, slips happen. A tip to the wrong place can easily be lost. For example, city police officers and guards in government buildings do not conduct complex investigations, and so may not know what to do with disclosures about fraud or corruption (or even adopt a "it's not my job" attitude). Plus, the Department of Justice and local United States Attorneys never conduct investigations, but instead prosecute cases presented to them by law enforcement agencies. This link explains the different types of law enforcement, as well as issues when dealing with agents.


Involving Unions

The relationship between unions and whistleblowers can be complex, if not downright problematic. On the one hand, federal unions have raised important employment issues in the courts--ranging from random drug tests to bans on outside employment. A union may well support raising health and safety concerns common to many members, or cite a whistleblower's case during an organizing campaign. However, union records are far from unblemished. Certainly, no union has taxpayer protection as its prime goal. Some may be most zealous in the comparative advancement of their own members. Perhaps the whistleblower's cause seems too personal, rather than advancing the majority's interests. Or, the status quo might benefit members in other ways.

Petitioning Congress

Every American has a constitutional right to petition Congress. Federal bureaucrats listen to Congressional requests because Congress both makes the rules (passes the laws) and funds agency budgets. Of course, executive agencies rarely appreciate employees approaching legislators directly. Congress made Federal employees' right to petition legislators explicit in 1912, by adopting what became 5 U.S.C. Section 7211. Even internal whistleblowers have often found it insufficient, hence the WPA and other remedial legislation. Congress passed explicit authorization for military members' right to petition their legislators in 1988. See 10 U.S.C. Section 1034. Recently, Congress passed the NoFEAR Act for federal employees and the Corporate and Criminal Fraud Accountability Act (Sarbanes-Oxley Act) for some private sector whistleblowers.

Talking with Independent Organizations

Most civil servants will not consult nongovernmental organizations about potential whistleblowing matters until retaliation has started, both out of loyalty to the agency and fearing reprisals should insiders learn of the outside involvement. Clearly, if the author's reform-minded approach always worked, neither this web page nor these advocacy organizations would need to exist.As it is, these outlets are many and varied. Most have definite political or media agendas (even scandal-mongering to attract attention and contributions). A few are near-fronts for lawyer referrals. Be aware that privacy can be exchanged for various degrees of help, including often a pig-in-the-poke, as going outside starts the retaliation cycle.

Contacting the Media

This whistleblowing route lies furthest outside the civil service system, and includes the largest reprisal risk. Media contacts include everything from press conferences to web pages. Bureaucratic problems are often unglamorous: even multi-million dollar frauds are usually less "newsworthy" than murder, natural disasters and sex scandals. Still, sometimes news coverage generates support for necessary reforms. Some non-government organizations proclaim that media-oriented whistleblowers do better, but secrecy means this remains unproven. Media contacts may be self-serving or even discourage direct reports to law enforcement. Also, reporters may not stay interested, so offended bureaucrats only need wait for revenge.
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