All federal employees of the federal government, be they elected or appointed, uniformed or civilian, take an unconditional oath to support, uphold, and defend the Constitution. As members of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, adherence to that sacred oath is their number one moral obligation — and that means that they must insure that their official actions comport with the letter, intent, and spirit of the Constitution. At the core of the entire system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution is the principle of accountability to the people.
A minimum behavioral criterion, therefore, is that all employees have a moral obligation to ensure that their actions and the actions of their fellow employees, are accountable to the people. The problem is that all men and women are not angels, to paraphrase James Madison, the chief designer of the system of checks and balances. Bad things happen and the temptation to turn public responsibility into a vehicle for private gain is a feature any government. But there are also Individuals who take their oath of office seriously and expose inefficiency, waste and wrong doing by the bad actors in government.
Unfortunately, all too often, they find that their actions to make things better hurt their own careers and even, in some cases, their own wellbeing. President Obama has spoken frequently about making government more accountable to the people. One symbolic way to begin that journey toward a more honorable government, would be to honor those government employees who have put the Constitution and their oath of office first and exposed government waste and wrongdoing. This is precisely the idea just put forward by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley has written to Mr. Obama asking to him take such an action in a special highly visible Rose Garden ceremony.
Such an action is surely long over due and is something Republicans, Democrats, and independents, at least those who believe in our form of representative government, can all support. Attached FYI, is a copy of Grassely’s press release and and letter to President Obama.
For Immediate Release Friday, February 27, 2009 Grassley urges the President to change culture of bureaucracy by honoring whistleblowers with a Rose Garden ceremony WASHINGTON
— Senator Chuck Grassley today urged President Barack Obama to plan a Rose Garden ceremony to honor whistleblowers in order to strengthen transparency, good government and accountability in the federal bureaucracy.
Grassley said he’s hopeful that Obama will act on the suggestion based on the new President’s welcome calls for more openness and accountability in government. “In exchange for risking their livelihoods to do what’s right for the good of the country, most whistleblowers are treated like skunks at a Sunday afternoon picnic and often far worse,” Grassley said. “President Obama could help to change this culture of hostility and uproot wrongdoing in government with a Rose Garden ceremony honoring whistleblowers. It would send a message from the top of the bureaucracy on down that whistleblowers should be heard and treated with rewards not reprisals.”
A long-time advocate for whistleblowers, Grassley sponsored changes made in 1986 to the Abe Lincoln-era federal False Claims Act to empower private sector whistleblowers. These amendments have recovered over $21 billion to the U.S. Treasury that would otherwise have been lost to fraud, according to the Justice Department. Grassley also co-authored the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 to protect public sector employees and has co-sponsored legislation updating that same law. He recently introduced legislation that would extend whistleblower protections to employees of the Legislative Branch and introduced updates to the False Claims Act this year and last to shore up whistleblower provisions eroded by the federal courts.
The Iowa senator has stood up against the heavy hand of the bureaucracy – regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge — for individual whistleblowers from the Pentagon, the FBI, the IRS, the Interior Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA, and the SEC.
The text of Grassley’s letter to the President is below.
February 26, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I’m writing to encourage your efforts to achieve a more accountable and transparent government. You and I share this goal, and based on my efforts over many years, I appreciated what you said about openness and accountability on the campaign trail so many times and during your first month in office. Elected officials hold a public trust and have an obligation to take every step possible to rid government bureaucracy of waste, fraud and abuse, and to have the public’s business be public.
One thing I’ve asked every president since Ronald Reagan to do is to hold a Rose Garden ceremony honoring whistleblowers. No one has done so yet, but I hope that you will based on your strong statements about accountability in government. I’m writing this letter to urge you to do so.
A Rose Garden ceremony honoring whistleblowers, with the President of the United States lauding the sacrifice of those who shoulder great personal risk for the greater public good, would exemplify the accountability and responsibility you’ve challenged the nation to embrace. It would send a loud and clear signal from the very top of government to the very lowest levels of government that waste, fraud and abuse won’t be tolerated. It would rally private citizens, including those employed by government contractors, and government employees alike that blowing the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse is not only the right thing to do, it’s also each individual’s civic responsibility.
In the Senate I’ve worked to champion the noble efforts of the whistleblowers with legislation and advocacy in individual cases. The whistleblowers I’ve gotten to know stood up when it was risky, when it was hard and when it wasn’t popular. In exchange for risking their livelihoods to do what’s right for the good of the country, most of these whistleblowers were treated like skunks at a Sunday afternoon picnic and far worse. Ernie Fitzgerald, one of the first federal government whistleblowers I ever met, described it well when he said whistleblowers were guilty of nothing more than “committing truth.”
Mr. President, you could help to change this culture with a Rose Garden ceremony and, in turn, uproot wrongdoing and strengthen transparency, good government and accountability through the federal bureaucracy, as you’ve said you want to do. Again, it’s my hope that you will act at this moment to honor whistleblowers with a Rose Garden ceremony. I look forward to working with you to achieve greater transparency in government.
Chuck Grassley of Iowa
United States Senator