New Administration Seems Friendlier to Whistleblowers

By Joe Davidson
Thursday, January 22, 2009

"And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made and whether their interests are being well-served."

-- Barack Obama

These words from President Obama yesterday, his first full day in office, are particularly welcome to those who blow the whistle on government waste, fraud and abuse.

They want him to strengthen transparency by making it safer for federal employees and contractors to reveal policies and practices that may run counter to the public interest.

"It's very encouraging that the Obama administration is making improved government transparency such a high priority, to put out a strong policy statement on the first day of the administration," said Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy at OMB Watch, a nonprofit government-watchdog organization.

By issuing memos to the heads of executive departments and agencies on the Freedom of Information Act and transparency and open government, the new boss in chief is sending a strong signal to federal employees that his administration places high value on openness and he wants them to do the same.

That's a comfort to whistleblowers and their advocates who believe current whistleblower protection laws provide too little protection and that the atmosphere under the Bush administration did not encourage federal workers and contractors to reveal problems.

The first sentence in the memo on transparency and open government makes Obama's direction clear: "My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government."

For federal employees, that could lead to a change in a culture that says no one was ever promoted for releasing information, but you can get in trouble for doing so, Moulton said.

"Trying to change that culture of better safe than sorry . . . is very difficult," he added.

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