Justice News Flash: Featured Column : Whistleblowers – First Responders to Fraud

Whistleblowers – First Responders to Fraud

We are in the midst of a crisis - an epidemic, in fact. It's fraud on the government.

fraud on the government
Whistleblowers – First Responders to Fraud

// Justice News Flash: Featured Column (Blog)
Whether it comes from our Puritan roots or the practical realities of frontier justice, the inherent American sense of what's right and wrong has always distinguished the United States and made it a beacon for others to follow. Americans don't sit back and expect someone else to be the brave one or the one making the sacrifice. From anonymous acts as Good Samaritans to helping victims of tragedies at home and abroad, we step up when the going gets tough. The 21st Century is already filled with examples of the selfless acts of ordinary Americans in events lodged in our collective memory by name -- 9-11, Katrina, Haiti, the Japanese Tsunami, Superstorm Sandy, Newtown, and the Boston Marathon Bombings. As one Oklahoma lawmaker commented after a tornado ripped through his district recently, "I am confident we will get the help we need to make it through this tragedy. That is what Americans do for other Americans in tough times and challenging circumstances." School teachers shield innocent children from flying bullets. First responders rush in to find the injured. Marathon runners cross the finish line and line up to donate blood. And in the wake of every conceivable disaster, man-made or natural, we donate generously to victims at home and abroad. Americans set a high bar for the rest of the world when it comes to doing the right thing just because it's the right thing. We have a collective appreciation, respect and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

So here's the thing. We are in the midst of a crisis - an epidemic, in fact. It's fraud on the government. The federal government conservatively estimates billions (and probably more accurately hundreds of billions) in taxpayer dollars are lost every year. This doesn't even take account of frauds on cities and states. Countless citizens witness this happening too. They work for a company cheating on a contract. They follow their competitors' business and know the only way they can be succeeding is by defrauding the government. And let's be clear. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, live in a red state or a blue state, vote Democrat or Republican (or vote at all), most Americans think fraud is bad. And fraud on the government? That deserves a special circle in hell -- for those who believe in it. The only people who think it is ok are the fraudsters with their mouths to the government spigot. That's why whistleblowing about fraud on the government should be a no brainer as an American concept. It's a courageous act to stop something no one wants happening and everyone benefits if we eliminate it.

Yet, less than a thousand False Claims Act cases are filed each year to expose this kind of fraud and return the ill-gotten gains. This may be explained, in part, because people still don't know about the False Claims Act. Thankfully, lawyers are raising the profile on this powerful law and how to use it. The more likely explanation, however, is that it's hard to be a whistleblower. Critics poo-poo this fact countering that whistleblowers are well-rewarded for their efforts. What those critics are less ready to acknowledge, though, is how often whistleblowers spend years exposing what they know while being subjected to retaliation at work and sometimes getting blackballed forever in their profession. The real risks of taking up the fight often outweigh the potential reward for ordinary people in the important decision-making about whether to become a whistleblower. So even though there are courageous people who want to contribute to the greater good this is the landscape.

After 9-11, when the world watched courageous acts of police, fire and ambulance personnel in New York City, there was a sea change in how we viewed the job of a First Responder. They were finally credited as the heroes they had always been. Perhaps it's time to see whistleblowers as the first responders to fraud and give them that same kind of respect.


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