“The Art of Anonymous Activism gives us the tools and guidance necessary to ‘make noise’ in defense of our fellow citizens while protecting ourselves from harm.”–Frank Serpico in forward to the book
Three national nonprofits have joined forces to help public employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, or abuse by releasing a how-to manual, “The Art of Anonymous Activism: Serving the Public While Surviving Public Service.” Citing the increased dangers of whistleblowing, the support groups hope the guide will allow more public employees to come forward while avoiding retaliation from agencies seeking to hide their foibles and corruption.
The announcement comes as one of the most widely-regarded government whistleblowers, Dr. Don Sweeney of the Army Corps of Engineers, has been gagged by his agency from speaking to the public, even on his own personal time. In 2000 and 2001, Sweeney exposed deliberate efforts by the Army Corps to manipulate cost/benefit studies in order to exaggerate the need for massive new agency projects.
“By using these tried and true strategies in our manual, public employees can make an enormous difference but can also work anonymously and safely if they choose,” said co-author Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER.
According to government surveys taken since 1992, one in fourteen federal employees reported being retaliated against in the previous two years for making disclosures concerning health and safety dangers, unlawful behavior, and/or fraud, waste, and abuse. Other surveys suggest that many public employees simply do not report problems because they think efforts to expose the problems will not lead to improvements.
According to Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), judicial rollbacks have severely impacted federal whistleblower protections: “Today federal employees no longer have credible protections from being fired or harassed when they blow the whistle.” Protections for state employees vary depending on state law.
Ultimately, working through intermediaries may be the best route for some. “The best way for whistleblowers to impact public policy is to get information out to the public while maintaining their anonymity, letting non-governmental actors like nonprofits and journalists serve on the front lines. Government agencies often successfully deflect attention from the policy failures being exposed by attacking the credibility of publicly identified whistleblowers,” said Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight(POGO).
Copies of the guide can be purchased for $10 from PEER, GAP or POGO or ordered online .