On Whistleblowing

Washington -- I am frequently asked about my experience as a whistleblower; all the more often with the case of Edward Snowden in the news. Because I am still in court, on behalf of the United States, against three student loan lenders who filed false claims against the U.S. government (six have previously settled, paying back approximately $65 million), I customarily refrain from commenting until all the cases are finished.

But now I have been asked by some in the whistleblower community to stand up and make it clear that the current, loose talk about all "whistleblowers" being, by definition, disloyal to their employers, and even traitors to their country, is irresponsible. Such talk sends a chilling message to would-be whistleblowers everywhere; rather, they should be encouraged to report fraud, waste, abuse, and illegality wherever it occurs.

I am happy to do so and let my own case serve as an example of whistleblowing that had nothing to do with disloyalty and everything to do with my oath to uphold the nation's laws and Constitution. Retaliation against me by my government employer was short lived when it became clear that I was simply acting true to my oath. Moreover, Congress quickly recognized the value of my research, as it enacted legislation in 2004 and 2006 to cut off payments of false claims. In 2007, I testified to the Senate in favor of killing the whole bank-based student loan program, citing waste and fraud. After my qui tam lawsuit was made public in 2009, Congress killed the program a few months later and used billions of dollars of savings to increase need-based grants to low income students.

Disloyalty is a loaded term often used inappropriately when discussing whistleblowers. Whistleblowing can be an act of loyalty, with a good outcome. No one points this out better than the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a charitable organization dedicated to educating the public about whistleblowers. Governments and private employers should have policies in place not only to protect whistleblowers, but to use the information they provide to improve their organizations.

The Snowden case must not become an excuse to discourage and vilify whistleblowers.