"News of The World" Fiasco Should Spur Whistleblower Protection

With every scandal that consumes the media there is an opportunity for reform. In the wake of News of the World (NoW) whistleblower Sean Hoare’s death last Monday and current investigations into Rupert Murdoch’s phone hacking scandal, British scandals show that reform is needed in America, especially with the Whistleblower Protection Act. 

Hoare’s death came shortly after his admission to the New York Times that phone hacking was “endemic” at NoW. While British police have stated his death is unexplained and part of an ongoing investigation, it is not currently seen as suspicious.

The power of influential people is still stopping people from blowing the whistle; it still prevents men and women from coming forward with information of illegal activity. There is a reason that Mark Felt went by his pseudonym “Deep Throat” rather than his real name. 

Men in power like Nixon or Murdoch can destroy lives and careers. Hoare’s exposure of the NoW hacking came after he was already fired, not before. While there is no way to stop individuals from abusing their power, there are ways to limit them. There are changes that can be made to better protect the whistleblowers who have acted conscientiously despite the risk of defamation and other career and life-ruining consequences. 

Right now many whistleblowers report the misdeeds of their employers after being fired. Jeffrey Wigand was fired from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company – for his knowledge that company executives knowingly add addictive additives to cigarettes – before reporting their crimes of libel. Employees should not have to wait until they have nothing to lose before reporting wrongdoing. 

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) was an expansion of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) meant to cover both government employees as well as employers outside the service sector. The WPA provides protection for disclosure of evidence of a violation (of law, rule, or regulation), gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, abuse of power, or substantial danger to public health/safety. The Senate's reasoning for using the terms “gross” and “substantial” was to prevent the use of judicial and/or administrative remedies for trivial matters. The problem with these terms is that they are subjective. While the introduced Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (WPEA) has addressed some of those concerns, organizations like the National Whistleblowers Center still find it incomplete.

The issue of subjectivity has still not been addressed. The next WPEA should include removal of these subjective terms and establish a system of review to judge the triviality of a whistleblower’s information. 

A whistleblower should not be afraid to report a wrongdoing simply because it might be too trivial for the government to be concerned with. Currently, the government is not fully protecting the safety and freedom of the whistleblowers. The government has been more than willing to spend the money on corporate bailouts, but not for the enhanced protection for the people who are willing to expose the corruption within them. 

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