With all the clamoring these days about information "leaks" and "fake news," some clarity is in order.
Lately, all sorts of information is being dumped into the cauldron of "fake news." That includes accurate news reporting that is so unflattering that institutions or individuals attempt to discredit it by trying to hang the "fake-news" label on it.
Then, there are certain facts that withstand fake-news complaints, so aggrieved parties roll out the allegation of "leaks" of confidential or even classified information. Such was the case the other day during the eye-blink tenure of Anthony Scaramucci, who claimed that reporting of some of his financial information was a "leak" and should be investigated. However, all the reporter did was cite financial disclosure documents he submitted to the government. They are in the public domain — available to anyone and everyone. So much for the "leak."
Lately, we've seen whistleblowers — the courageous individuals who report illegal, unethical or wasteful actions in government or business — lumped into the category of "leakers." These men and women risk their careers — and usually see them short-circuited or lost — but nonetheless report the problems they see. Whistleblowers are often treated as workplace pariahs.
Fortunately, Sen. Chuck Grassley is having none of it. The Iowa Republican is a long-time opponent of fraud, waste and mismanagement in government, and he's an advocate for and defender of whistleblowers.
Grassley, R-Iowa, stood up for and protected whistleblowers long before he became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee starting in 2015. But as chair of the powerful committee, his words and actions now carry more clout.
For example, Grassley stayed on the Department of Veterans Affairs' case regarding Brandon Coleman, who reported the VA's poor treatment of suicidal veterans in Arizona, where he ran an addiction treatment program.
As the saying goes, "No good deed goes unpunished."
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For his temerity to report the disgraceful treatment of our veterans, the VA stuck Coleman on administrative leave for more than a year. Through a settlement agreement reached through the Office of Special Counsel, Coleman has returned to active status with the VA — assigned, appropriately, to the department's new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
If not for Grassley, chances are Coleman would still be in the VA's version of Siberia — or worse.
Coincidentally, Grassley spoke at a Whistleblower Appreciation Day luncheon last week, and he emphasized the importance of whistleblowers, who, he noted, are typically "treated like skunks at a picnic."
He also said, in part:
- "Whistleblowers have exposed waste, fraud, and abuse in just about every industry and agency in this country. The issues they report can involve millions and even billions of taxpayer dollars. They can also literally be matters of life and death."
- "They are just ordinary people like you and me, who see something wrong and want to fix it. Nobody is perfect — people and organizations make mistakes, waste money, or even break the law. When you see that kind of fraud, waste, and abuse, you have a choice. You can go along to get along or you can speak up."
- "Whistleblowers are the ones who tell you what's broken, so you can fix it. Thanks largely to whistleblowers, the government has recovered more than $53 billion in taxpayer money lost to fraud under the False Claims Act. That will get you to the moon and back 72 times."
- "I believe whistleblowers are patriots and heroes."
Considering whistleblowers' great risks for little or no reward, yet the tremendous service they provide, Grassley's depiction is spot-on.
This editorial appeared in the Aug. 4 edition of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.