On the playground, kids are always told to speak up if a bully is on the prowl, or if someone else is acting unsafely. Tell an adult, we say.
But never has a kid, worried for their own safety or the safety of others, been suspended or expelled for voicing their concerns.
So why is it that once those kids turn into working adults who have concerns about workplace safety, mismanagement, or the integrity of their superiors, we label them as “whistle-blowers” and subject them to retaliation?
In a society where the term “transparency” has become more of a buzzword than an actual call to action, whistle-blowers play a vital role in today’s world and are arguably the best method we have in deterring corruption and fraud.
Take Jane Turner, who served 20 years as an FBI Special Agent to provide protection for child sex crime victims on the North Dakota Indian Reservations, and later reported on failures within the FBI to prosecute crimes against children in Indian country. After 9/11, Turner also blew the whistle on colleagues who allegedly stole items from Ground Zero. In response, the FBI gave her a “does not meet expectations” review and effectively terminated her.
Or take Robert Ranghelli, the 20-year-old who exposed that the National Funeral Home in Virginia had been mishandling bodies and that military veterans awaiting burial at Arlington National Cemetery were being stored unrefrigerated and allowed to decompose before burial. He was later fired.
Or take surgeon Scott Russi, who raised concerns about the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Eugene clinic and the VA’s chief of surgery. After challenging the chief of surgery about a salary contract and about a surgical procedure the chief had performed, Russi, a 29-year active duty U.S. Air Force member, combat surgeon and former trauma surgeon at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, was essentially told he would be fired at a Starbucks coffee shop.
The actions taken by Turner, Ranghelli and Russi inspire us and give us hope that when unethical activity takes place in both the public and private sector, needed corrections will be made. But what needs to be stopped is the unneeded and unwarranted retaliation that whistle-blowers must face.
Last week U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, gave a fervent speech on the floor of the U.S House in favor of the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017. The act, which is now on the president’s desk for approval, outlines mandatory punishments for supervisors within the federal government who retaliate against whistle-blowers. It takes the shape of a meaningful two-strike policy.
On the first offense, the supervisor faces at least a three-day suspension. On the second offense, he or she is fired.
We strongly support the bill and hope that more steps are taken to strengthen whistle-blower laws that protect the right of individuals to report wrongdoing without worrying about the fear of retaliation. Because in a world seemingly filled with corruption and unsavory activity, we need you to feel safe speaking up.