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Whistleblower Advocates Praise Pick to Lead New House Ombudsman Office

The office will train congressional staffers on handling disclosures of potential waste, fraud and abuse.

Whistleblower advocates praised the selection on Friday of Shanna Devine to lead the new congressional whistleblower ombudsman office that will offer best practices on handling government and other workers who report perceived mismanagement or wrongdoing.

The House rules package adopted at the beginning of the 116th Congress in January 2019 established the House of Representatives’ Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman. The new office will train congressional staff on handling communications and the reporting process with individuals looking to make disclosures to Congress, so that their identities are protected and they do not experience retaliation. 

Devine, most recently the worker health and safety advocate for nonprofit watchdog Public Citizen, will be the inaugural director. The impeachment investigation—which stemmed from a whistleblower complaint that exposed how President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “to do us a favor” by investigating a 2020 political rival—highlighted some of the issues Devine’s office will tackle, according to the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy group.

“There has long been a bipartisan commitment to protecting the voices of those who speak the truth and put their livelihoods on the line to root out waste, fraud and abuse,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a press release. “Shanna Devine comes highly recommended from the whistleblower advocacy community for her extensive experience working with Congress, advocacy groups and the public to strengthen protections for whistleblowers, as well as developing and leading trainings for public interest groups, federal agencies, Congress and relevant working groups and leadership councils.” 

According to the rules package, the House speaker is tasked with nominating the director in consultation with the House Administration and Oversight and Reform committees’ chairs and ranking members. Whistleblower experts and advocacy organizations were elated by the selection of Devine.

“Whistleblowers are critical to Congress’ oversight of the federal government,”  said Irvin McCullough, deputy legislative director for the Government Accountability Project. “This office ensures that House staffers will be well-trained to handle whistleblowing cases with the care and sensitivity they deserve, protecting truth-tellers and investigating their tips. Devine trained me years ago, and I’ve been delighted to work alongside her as an advocate in the time since. She’s spreading whistleblowing’s best practices through the halls of Congress—and as someone who’s been through her trainings, I’m sure she’ll make it stick.”

Tom Mueller, author of the 2019 book Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, congratulated the House for the selection of Devine. These are “challenging times for [whistleblowers] and [it’s] reassuring to know Shanna will be playing this important role,” he said. 

Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog Project on Government Oversight, also said she was thrilled with the selection. “I've worked with Shanna for over a decade and know her to be a tireless advocate for whistleblower and worker rights,” Brian said. “Her deep understanding of the importance of whistleblower-congressional communications will surely lead the office to be a resounding success felt for years to come. On behalf of POGO, I look forward to seeing this office succeed under her leadership and vision and commend leadership on this excellent choice.”

Although the recent impeachment investigation shed light on some of the issues in the whistleblower reporting process, the idea for such an ombudsman office has been in the works for a while. “The office is going to have a rough road ahead of it,” said Kel McClanahan, attorney and executive director of National Security Counselors, a public interest law firm that specializes in national security. “I expect it will receive a lot of pushback from offices less inclined to embrace whistleblowers or protective of their turf, and it needs someone like Shanna in charge who can navigate that minefield and demonstrate the value of cooperation.”