It seems to me that we’re asking an awful lot of whistleblowers. We’re hoping their sense of right and wrong and devotion to public service will compel them to come forward even if that likely means an end to their career in public service — at best. If we really value whistleblowers, we need to provide them with a bit more incentive. And it needs to come from the private sector. The government certainly isn’t going to reward them for exposing government malfeasance, President Obama’s campaign promises notwithstanding.
A series of prizes for government employees who risk their livelihoods to shed light on government abuse might be one way to provide an incentive for more whistleblowing. It needn’t just be one big prize. Think about a foundation that might give out multiple prizes, at all levels of government. Yes, it would need to be pretty well funded. The idea here would be to give out prizes significant enough to compensate for the losses of income, the foregoing of careers, and potential legal expenses. But it seems to me that there are enough people — and enough affluent people — concerned about NSA spying, police abuse, and government waste to make something like this happen. In fact, there needn’t even be just one foundation, or one series of prizes. Perhaps conservatives aren’t eager to reward someone like Edward Snowden, or have no interest in compensating a cop who exposes racial profiling or spying on protest groups. Fair enough. A conservative-oriented whistleblower prize, then, could reward government employees who expose waste, fraud, and politically-motivated regulation or application of the tax laws. Perhaps the foundations themselves could eventually be staffed and run by whistleblowers — a way to provide them with continued meaningful employment in public service.