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July 30, 2019

Whistleblower Appreciation Day reinforces nation’s commitment to justice, accountability

by: Rebecca M. Katz

As it has done each year since 2013, our nation’s Senate recently passed a resolution to recognize July 30 as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, commemorating the signing of our country’s first whistleblower law in 1778. In the midst of the Revolutionary War, and faced with the dilemma of how to address the retaliatory dismissal and jailing of a pair of Navy sailors who had reported the mistreatment of enemy soldiers, our country’s earliest leaders made the critical choice to stand by these whistleblowers. Not only did they cover the costs of the sailors’ defense, but they enacted a resolution requiring that any information of alleged “misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states,” be reported to the Continental Congress. It was a decision that shaped our nation’s commitment to justice and the protection of its citizens when they bravely choose to speak out against wrongdoing.

While the number of federal whistleblower laws in our country has increased tremendously since then, the desire to protect the selfless individuals who choose to come forward is still, to this day, one of our highest priorities. Crafting our laws with that mind helps ease the transfer of information from whistleblowers to the proper authorities by making them feel comfortable enough to share what they know.

One recent example of this is the Taxpayer First Act, which was signed into law on July 1, 2019. This Act contains numerous incentives and enhancements to previous laws to benefit tax whistleblowers, including:

  • Creating, for the first time, anti-retaliation protections for whistleblowers who report tax fraud, making the IRS Whistleblower Program comparable with other federal whistleblower laws, such as the False Claims Act.
  • Providing for enhanced communication between the IRS Whistleblower Office and whistleblowers. Before this improvement, whistleblowers received little to no information regarding the status of their submissions to the IRS.
  • Directing the IRS to keep whistleblowers informed, by sharing whether the information submitted has been referred to audit, and whether there has been a payment by the taxpayer related to the issue raised by the whistleblowers.
  • Directing the IRS Whistleblower Office to provide status updates on an investigation to the whistleblowers as requested.

The inclusion of anti-retaliation provisions in this Act, and improved communication between the IRS and whistleblowers, go a long way to quell common fears and concerns that whistleblowers have before making the decision whether or not to come forward. The harder we make it for them to provide important information, the easier it is for misconduct to flourish unchecked, since we often rely on inside information to identify and help put a stop to fraud in all forms.

In honor of National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, I take this time to say thank you to those who selflessly make the choice to come forward to ensure that wrongdoers are held to account. Your sacrifices benefit us all and for that, you are appreciated.