President Trump has made it clear for a while now that he’s fed up with leaks coming from inside his administration. Under the covers (at least to a certain degree) there’s been a program underway to discourage federal workers from airing their dirty laundry to the media. With that in mind, new posters have been showing up around various federal agencies warning people about the damage which can come from such activities. This, of course, has the usual list of suspect up in arms, with warnings about discouraging legitimate whistle blowers from coming forward. (Government Executive)
Wall posters at the Energy Department‘s headquarters warn employees that “Every leak makes us weak.” The campaign forms part of the governmentwide “insider threat” program aimed at deterring release of classified information, but whistleblower advocates are crying foul, pointing to the posters’ failure to distinguish between illegal leaking and employees’ rights to disclose waste, fraud and abuse.
The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight last week in a letter sent to Energy officials as well as the Office of Special Counsel called the campaign a “potential violation of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.” The group asked OSC to investigate.
“Even if inadvertent, deterring whistleblowing in an effort to stymie leaks makes the federal government less effective and less efficient,” wrote POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian to acting Special Counsel Adam Miles.
Here’s one of the posters in question which have been going up around the Department of Energy under Rick Perry.
I’m not going to deny that there’s a valid argument about whistleblowers here. You definitely don’t want your employees to be hesitant about exposing actual corruption and wrongdoing on the part of their own department (or even simple wasteful practices) if positive feedback to their supervisor or the Inspector General’s office doesn’t’ produce any results. Unfortunately, far too many are seemingly unable to draw a line between legitimate exposure of government wrongdoing and hazy (or even baseless) gossip which does nothing more than give the media something to chatter about for the next news cycle while not highlighting any actual corruption, waste, fraud or abuse which could be corrected.
While coming up with a substantive definition to use in a policy manual might be difficult, the difference between hot takes or gossip and legitimate whistleblowing should be one of those things where you know it when you see it. If you found out that a contract had been awarded to your manager’s daughter-in-law who had no experience in the business under discussion and nobody was reviewing it, you’d want to risk telling that to a reporter if nobody at the IG office would listen to you. But running off to chat with the New York Times because you overheard two senior officials in your office arguing over what a jerk the President’s son is, well… that’s not whistleblowing. You’re promoting gossip and derailing the department’s mission and message.
Think these posters are going to help? Naw. I’d be more interested in seeing who got the contract to print them, myself.