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Senators Launch Whistleblower Protection Caucus to Send Message

Grassley and Wyden cross the aisle to reinforce that those who report fraud or abuse “deserve praise, not hostility.”

Touting a rare display of bipartisanship, two senators on Wednesday announced the launch of a Whistleblower Protection Caucus, which has attracted 10 members seeking to “send a message from the very top of the bureaucracy on down that whistleblowers deserve praise, not hostility.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told a briefing for whistleblower activists and reporters that the caucus would also “send a message that the legislative branch of government understands whistleblowers’ indispensable role in fighting fraud and standing up to wrongdoing.” 

Vice chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the caucus hopes to “preserve the ability of the whistleblower to shine a light where others have not on waste and malfeasance. They shouldn’t have to live in fear for doing what’s right and necessary.”

Other caucus members include Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; and Edward Markey, D-Mass.

In the audience were leaders from the Project on Government Oversight, the Government Accountability Project and the National Whistleblowers Center, along with four star whistleblowers: Frederic Whitehurst, who exposed FBI crime lab corruption; Robert MacLean, who revealed that the Transportation Security Administration had reduced air marshal coverage on flights; John Dodson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who revealed a gun-walking operation related to death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry; and Peter Forcelli, also with ATF, who disclosed Justice Department management issues in the same gun-walking case.

Grassley recalled that he has asked every president since Ronald Reagan to host a Rose Garden ceremony honoring whistleblowers. “They probably thought it was tongue in cheek,” he added, and one president said if he held such a ceremony, 3,000 whistleblowers would come out of the woodwork.

Resistance to encouraging whistleblowers, Grassley said, results from “a great deal of peer pressure to go along to get along, which leads to retaliation. Also, whistleblowers simply stand out, and it’s easy to retaliate against skunks at the picnic. Unless heads roll, it’s difficult to pinpoint the person doing the punishing.”

Wyden added that whistleblowers are “singled out as not being team players, which is hard to shake.”

The senators acknowledged that there are different considerations for whistleblowers in the national security and intelligence agencies. Grassley said he pursued a bill to protect their rights but it was removed in a conference with the House. “It’s a tough nut to crack,” he said.

“We’re all against terrorists,” Wyden added. “But we want to make sure those in the intelligence community can speak truth to power.” More broadly, “we believe that if our caucus goes the distance and looks at cases in detail and holds people accountable, we will send a message that whistleblowers are valued and appreciated. We will stay at this until justice is done.”