Recent Obama administration whistleblower protections are a welcome change of course

President Obama has received criticism from news media and advocacy groups about its stance on transparency.  The administration set out with potential and the promise to be the most transparent administration to date. But reality has yet to match promises.

Efforts toward recovery such as the implementation of the Recovery Act have been overshadowed by the government’s seemingly aggressive stance toward whistleblowers.

However, they are doing some things right:

Office of Management and Budget

  • In a response to the Food and Drug Administration’s email monitoring, the administration sent out a memo to chief information officers and general counsels in government offices warning them against such behavior. Among other things, the memo said monitoring emails with the intention of punishing a whistleblower might be illegal.  This was an attempt by the Office of Management and Budget to ensure employees’ confidence in their ability to report wrongdoing to government authorities.  The memo, written by Special Council Carolyn N. Lerner,  outlined the measures offices should take while monitoring emails.  This is a decisive move toward greater transparency and a hopeful shift in whistleblower protection.

Click here for more information on the memo and the facts surrounding the FDA’s email monitoring.

The Securities and Exchange Commission

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission is preparing to pay out on its promise to reward those who expose corporate wrongdoing. Passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act paved the way for whistleblowers to receive compensation for the risks inherent with providing the information. While no one has been paid yet, the SEC assures the money is on its way. During the seven weeks following implementation of the act, 334 calls were made, spread between international entities and 37 states.  The SEC expects that number to climb as payouts continue and people see the efficacy of the program. The reason behind such a time lag between reporting and receiving the cash dividend is likely because of the lengthy nature of complaints and disputes.

“There are several types of securities fraud, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reports that the tips coming in cover most of them. One of the most common transgressions reported is financial statement fraud and lack of disclosure,” said Angie Mohr in an article provided to the SFGate by Investopedia.  “This is generally a difficult area for the SEC to investigate on its own. With detailed insider information, the SEC can determine whether a company is following reporting regulations.

This small step by the SEC will potentially create a haven for and remove some fear from a group that has historically been punished or vilified for exposing corruption.

Internal Revenue Service

  • The IRS announced its plan to review the Whistleblower Office operations in an attempt to respond more quickly and effectively to claims, Bloomberg reported. This is likely in response to criticism from Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IAIowa) and others, who claim the Whistleblower Office has been slow and inefficient.

Check out the IRS memo here.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

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