Now that the impeachment of President Trump and Senate trial have come to a close, it is time for those of us who fight for the rights of whistleblowers to take stock. Given the turbulent events of the past few months, how can the National Whistleblower Center ensure that future would-be whistleblowers know that they will be supported if they step forward to hold wrongdoers accountable?

On the bright side, we have had many teachable moments that serve as a foundation for building a movement for new whistleblower protections and a stronger democracy. NWC has appeared regularly in the media, at conferences and in Congress in the past several months to defend the anonymous whistleblower’s rights to confidentiality and to explain why protecting whistleblowers is critical to democracy and the rule of law. We have communicated important nuances of whistleblower protection, such as the value of second-hand evidence and the reasons why investigators do not reject whistleblower evidence based on speculation about motive.

That said, for the first time in U.S. history, a President openly threatened the safety of a whistleblower and called for the exposure of the whistleblower’s confidential identity. Prominent allies in Congress and in the media joined this campaign of intimidation and retaliation. Although such retaliation and witness intimidation may not be prosecutable, it is nonetheless bad for our democracy.
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The IRS just released its annual report on the whistleblower program – showing over $616 million dollars brought into the Treasury thanks to the work of tax whistleblowers speaking out about tax evasion. While the awards to tax whistleblowers is not as high as last year’s record of collection of over $1.4 billion dollars and $312 million in awards – the awards for FY 2019 are still a solid $120 million (by comparison a marked improvement still over the $33.9 million in FY 2017 awards).

The trend is clear that the IRS has embraced the modern mandatory tax whistleblower program created by my old boss Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) – and it is honest taxpayers who have most benefited. Credit to the director of the IRS whistleblower office Lee Martin and his team for getting these awards out (as well as the support from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig for the program).

The report makes note that the clarification in the law (26 U.S.C. 7623(c)) that whistleblowers can be paid for FBAR violations (undeclared foreign bank accounts) as well as criminal fines has been a key – with $110 million of the $616 million collected based on that clarification of the law. From my own practice representing tax whistleblowers, it is clear that the IRS continues to take a strong interest in receiving information from informed whistleblowers about offshore accounts and criminal tax activity.  Interesting, the report highlights for the first time that the IRS received 282 submissions from whistleblowers overseas last year. Being a foreign national is certainly not a bar to blowing the whistle to the IRS – and receiving an award.
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Much of what we accept as legal in medical billing would be regarded as fraud in any other sector.

I have been circling around this conclusion for the past five years, as I’ve listened to patients’ stories while covering health care as a journalist and author. Now, after a summer of firsthand experience — my husband was in a bike crash in July — it’s time to call out this fact head-on. Many of the Democratic candidates are talking about practical fixes for our high-priced health care system, and some legislated or regulated solutions to the maddening world of medical billing would be welcome.

My husband, Andrej, flew over his bicycle’s handlebars when he hit a pothole at high speed on a Sunday ride in Washington. He was unconscious and lying on the pavement when I caught up with him minutes later. The result: six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken finger, a broken collarbone and a broken shoulder blade.

The treatment he got via paramedics and in the emergency room and intensive care unit were great. The troubles began, as I knew they would, when the bills started arriving.

I will not even complain here about some of the crazy-high charges: $182 for a basic blood test, $9,289 for two days in a room in intensive care, $20 for a pill that costs pennies at a pharmacy. We have great insurance, which negotiates these rates down. And at least Andrej got and benefited from those services.

What I’m talking about here were the bills for things that simply didn’t happen, or only kind-of, sort-of happened, or were mislabeled as things they were not or were so nebulously defined that I couldn’t figure out what we might be paying for.


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A guest post from Dean Zerbe, senior policy analyst for the National Whistleblower Center and former tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.

Many people considering blowing the whistle on tax evasion ask themselves the most basic question: Do I have a case that will interest the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?

I have represented whistleblowers who have received over $300 million dollars in award payments from the IRS and during that time have found that there are a few key tests that may increase the possibility the IRS will take action on a whistleblower submission.

  • Federal Tax v. State Tax

The IRS whistleblower award program is focused on federal tax. If your case involves state taxes– then the answer is no. However, some states do have a whistleblower program that you may wish to explore filing with the appropriate state. Also, if the federal tax at issue is payroll tax, be cautious. These are highly fact intensive cases – and commonly the IRS will tell the taxpayer to simply “get right” going forward – with no back taxes owed (and therefore no award).

  • Know v. Speculation

The IRS whistleblower office has continually beaten the drums that they are looking for submissions from whistleblowers who have good, informed knowledge about tax evasion – as opposed to speculation. Speculation for the IRS means that the whistleblower doesn’t have first-hand knowledge, but may be familiar with the industry and believes or expects that there is evasion of tax. Particularly problematic submissions are those cases where the whistleblower cannot even name the specific taxpayer evading tax. While the IRS is open to a submission where the whistleblower doesn’t know every step of the transaction – the more the whistleblower can color it all in – the better.


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Today the National Whistleblower Center launches its Climate Corruption Campaign. I would like to share why I believe this campaign and the whistleblowers who will be at the heart of it are so badly needed.

For those fossil fuel and industrial logging company executives who may be reading this and be familiar with the corruption I describe: I encourage you to contact the National Whistleblower Center on our secure intake form and engage with us in a conversation about becoming a confidential whistleblower!

Climate Emergency

Last month, 11,000 scientists from around the world came together to issue a clarion call: “planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” They predicted that “untold suffering” would ensue without an “immense increase” in effort to address the climate crisis.

I have always believed we are an intelligent species, quite capable of rescuing our civilization from the miseries of runaway climate change. The impressive gains in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the past few decades have only reinforced this belief. We now have the technology we need to get us most of the way to solving the climate puzzle and we have the ingenuity to take us the rest of the way.

Yet just last week, the Global Carbon Project released a report finding that in 2019, despite impressive progress with clean energy, global fossil fuel emissions had increased for the third straight year. Meanwhile a blizzard of studies strengthened the links between rising carbon emissions from fossil fuels, deforestation and other sources and the intensification of fires, floods and other extreme weather events as well as rapid ice melt on the world’s glaciers.

The urgent need for action is clear. We must not only bear down on proven strategies like rapidly deploying wind and solar energy. We also must finally come to grips with what is happening inside the companies producing fossil fuels. (I will write at a later date about coming to grips with the illegal timber trade.)


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As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign this year, the National Whistleblower Center is highlighting the stories of several whistleblowers who spoke at the 2019 National Whistleblower Day celebration.

Sherron Watkins, Enron whistleblower

Sherron Watkins is the former Enron Vice President who wrote a now infamous memo in the summer of 2001 to then-CEO Kenneth Lay warning him about improper accounting methods.

At the time, Enron was one of the largest corporations in the U.S. and a giant in the energy-trading and utilities field. Fortune had named it “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years. However, Watkins’ memo revealed that the company’s finances were sustained by systemic accounting fraud and corruption.

Enron was forced to declare bankruptcy in late 2001, and she was called to testify before both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate about the accounting irregularities that she had found in the financial statements. 
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As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign this year, the National Whistleblower Center is highlighting the stories of several whistleblowers who spoke at the 2019 National Whistleblower Day celebration.

Sheila White is an employment discrimination whistleblower who took her case against railway giant Burlington Northern & Santa Fe all the way to the Supreme Court.

In June of 1997, she was the only woman working in the Maintenance of Way Department at BNSF’s Tennessee Yard. While she was hired originally as a “track laborer”, her duties soon expanded to operating the forklift.

In September that year, White complained to BNSF officials that her immediate supervisor had made repeated derogatory and inappropriate remarks to her in front of colleagues and suggested that women should not be working in the department.

While her boss was suspended and ordered to attend sexual harassment training, White was removed from forklift duty. She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming the reassignment of duties constituted gender-based discrimination and retaliation.
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As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign this year, the National Whistleblower Center is highlighting the stories of several whistleblowers who spoke at the 2019 National Whistleblower Day celebration.

Eugene “Gene” Ross is a former Bear Stearns employee who uncovered the Amerindo Investment Advisor fraud in September 2004.

The principals of Amerindo – Alberto Vilar and Gary Tanaka – misappropriated at least $5 million from a client and made false and misleading statements. In November 2008, they were convicted for defrauding investors.

Gene was a witness for the Department of Justice and testified at the trial; an internal memo he wrote documenting the fraud was also used as evidence.

Because Gene blew the whistle, Vilar and Tanaka went to prison. The Amerindo victims got most of their money back. Without him, none of this would have happened.

But his honesty came at a price – Gene was heavily retaliated against by Bear Stearns. He was chastised, fired, and sued. In 2010, he was forced to declare personal bankruptcy.


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 John Kostyack is the executive director of the  National Whistleblower Center

A national conversation is underway about whether the President’s actions on the Ukraine matter warrant impeachment – a question on which the National Whistleblower Center does not take a position. However, an equally robust conversation needs to happen on a related question: how to respond to the President’s hostile actions toward the Ukraine whistleblowers.

Our view is that the President’s actions are very likely violating laws prohibiting intimidation of witnesses and reprisals against whistleblowers. Moreover, he is failing to uphold his duty to enforce the anti-reprisal law. Regardless of how Congress proceeds on the impeachment inquiry, it must forcefully assert itself here. Congress needs whistleblowers to perform its constitutional oversight role and otherwise ensure implementation of the laws it passes. To defend its role in our system of checks and balances, Congress must insist that the President reverse course.

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10/21 update: On Monday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced it is rescheduling Wednesday’s meeting on proposed changes to its whistleblower program. According to the SEC’s open meeting website, the meeting, previously scheduled for October 23rd, is “cancelled.”

Stephen M. Kohn, chair of the NWC board, issued a statement; ” We welcome the postponement of the October 23rd meeting. It is vitally important that the SEC understands all of the issues and gets this rulemaking right.”


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