The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide

A Handbook for Committing the Truth

Tom Devine (Author) | Tarek Maassarani (Author)

Publication date: 04/04/2011

The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide

Offers authoritative, accessible information and advice on the whistleblowing process and how to survive it with sanity and dignity.

  • Offers not just authoritative, accessible information but advice on every step of the whistleblowing process

  • Copublished with the Government Accountability Project, which has been aiding and protecting whistleblowers since 1977

  • Illustrated with vivid examples drawn from GAP's thirty-year history

Corporate whistleblowers save lives, prevent fraud, and preserve the environment. Some even become famous. But what the general public sees is the end result of a long, difficult, draining, and often frightening process. Whistleblowers rarely have any idea what they're in for and, daunted by the ferocity of the resistance and their feelings of isolation and helplessness, some give up, and others are broken financially and emotionally.

Blowing the whistle will always require courage and perseverance, but it no longer has to be done alone. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will serve as an expert advisor for anyone contemplating bringing corporate wrongdoers to justice. Tom Devine and Tarek F. Maassarani draw on the accumulated experience of the Government Accountability Project, which since 1977 has helped over 5,000 people take on organizations like AIG, the World Bank, Procter & Gamble, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals--and win.

Devine and Maassarani detail every consideration potential whistleblowers should weigh and paint a vivid picture of the tactics corporations use to attack whistleblowers and cover up or deny damaging revelations. If you are considering blowing the whistle, this book offers hands-on, practical advice on every aspect of the process--finding information to support your claims, determining who to blow the whistle to, enlisting allies, and taking advantage of what legal options exist. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will enable readers to bring vital information to light while keeping their sanity, relationships, and careers intact.

  • Offers not just authoritative, accessible information but advice on every step of the whistleblowing process

  • Copublished with the Government Accountability Project, which has been aiding and protecting whistleblowers since 1977

  • Illustrated with vivid examples drawn from GAP's thirty-year history

  • Click here for Press Release

Corporate whistleblowers save lives, prevent fraud, and preserve the environment. Some even become famous. But what the general public sees is the end result of a long, difficult, draining, and often frightening process. Whistleblowers rarely have any idea what they're in for and, daunted by the ferocity of the resistance and their feelings of isolation and helplessness, some give up, and others are broken financially and emotionally.

Blowing the whistle will always require courage and perseverance, but it no longer has to be done alone. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will serve as an expert advisor for anyone contemplating bringing corporate wrongdoers to justice. Tom Devine and Tarek F. Maassarani draw on the accumulated experience of the Government Accountability Project, which since 1977 has helped over 5,000 people take on organizations like AIG, the World Bank, Procter & Gamble, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals--and win.

Devine and Maassarani detail every consideration potential whistleblowers should weigh and paint a vivid picture of the tactics corporations use to attack whistleblowers and cover up or deny damaging revelations. If you are considering blowing the whistle, this book offers hands-on, practical advice on every aspect of the process--finding information to support your claims, determining who to blow the whistle to, enlisting allies, and taking advantage of what legal options exist. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will enable readers to bring vital information to light while keeping their sanity, relationships, and careers intact.

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Overview

Offers authoritative, accessible information and advice on the whistleblowing process and how to survive it with sanity and dignity.

  • Offers not just authoritative, accessible information but advice on every step of the whistleblowing process

  • Copublished with the Government Accountability Project, which has been aiding and protecting whistleblowers since 1977

  • Illustrated with vivid examples drawn from GAP's thirty-year history

Corporate whistleblowers save lives, prevent fraud, and preserve the environment. Some even become famous. But what the general public sees is the end result of a long, difficult, draining, and often frightening process. Whistleblowers rarely have any idea what they're in for and, daunted by the ferocity of the resistance and their feelings of isolation and helplessness, some give up, and others are broken financially and emotionally.

Blowing the whistle will always require courage and perseverance, but it no longer has to be done alone. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will serve as an expert advisor for anyone contemplating bringing corporate wrongdoers to justice. Tom Devine and Tarek F. Maassarani draw on the accumulated experience of the Government Accountability Project, which since 1977 has helped over 5,000 people take on organizations like AIG, the World Bank, Procter & Gamble, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals--and win.

Devine and Maassarani detail every consideration potential whistleblowers should weigh and paint a vivid picture of the tactics corporations use to attack whistleblowers and cover up or deny damaging revelations. If you are considering blowing the whistle, this book offers hands-on, practical advice on every aspect of the process--finding information to support your claims, determining who to blow the whistle to, enlisting allies, and taking advantage of what legal options exist. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will enable readers to bring vital information to light while keeping their sanity, relationships, and careers intact.

  • Offers not just authoritative, accessible information but advice on every step of the whistleblowing process

  • Copublished with the Government Accountability Project, which has been aiding and protecting whistleblowers since 1977

  • Illustrated with vivid examples drawn from GAP's thirty-year history

  • Click here for Press Release

Corporate whistleblowers save lives, prevent fraud, and preserve the environment. Some even become famous. But what the general public sees is the end result of a long, difficult, draining, and often frightening process. Whistleblowers rarely have any idea what they're in for and, daunted by the ferocity of the resistance and their feelings of isolation and helplessness, some give up, and others are broken financially and emotionally.

Blowing the whistle will always require courage and perseverance, but it no longer has to be done alone. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will serve as an expert advisor for anyone contemplating bringing corporate wrongdoers to justice. Tom Devine and Tarek F. Maassarani draw on the accumulated experience of the Government Accountability Project, which since 1977 has helped over 5,000 people take on organizations like AIG, the World Bank, Procter & Gamble, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals--and win.

Devine and Maassarani detail every consideration potential whistleblowers should weigh and paint a vivid picture of the tactics corporations use to attack whistleblowers and cover up or deny damaging revelations. If you are considering blowing the whistle, this book offers hands-on, practical advice on every aspect of the process--finding information to support your claims, determining who to blow the whistle to, enlisting allies, and taking advantage of what legal options exist. The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide will enable readers to bring vital information to light while keeping their sanity, relationships, and careers intact.

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - Tom Devine

Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked to assist thousands of whistleblowers to come forward and has been involved in the all of the campaigns to pass or defend major whistleblower laws over the last two decades. Devine has served as “Ambassador of Whistleblowing” in over a dozen nations on trips sponsored by the U.S. State Department and is a frequent expert commentator on television and radio talk shows. Mr. Devine is the recipient of the “Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award” and the “Defender of the Constitution Award” bestowed by the Fund for Constitutional Government, and inn 2006 he was inducted into the Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.



Visit Author Page - Tarek Maassarani


Tarek Maassarani, a friend and disciple of Tom Devine, served as investigative researcher and writer for the Government Accountability Project and the Union of Concerned Scientists on issues of scientific integrity and whistleblower rights. As an attorney, he has busied himself with human rights litigation against large multinational companies, the conceptual development of human rights impact assessments, and legal representation of the indigent. He co-founded PostiveRelating.org through which he offers consulting services to organizations and individuals related to effective communication and conflict resolution. Tarek is a professor of peacebuilding and human rights at American University and the George Washington University and lives in hilly Takoma Park with his sweetheart and two sons.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Jeffrey Wigand

Introduction: Whistleblowing in Corporate America

The Need for This Handbook

A Message to Corporate Leaders

Chapter One: Deciding to Blow the Whistle

- What Constitutes a Whistleblower Case?

- Facing Conflicting Values and Goals

- Whistleblowers at Their Best

- Reality Check for the Aspiring Whistleblower

Shooting the Messenger

The Personal Price

Chapter Two: The Red Flags

- Targeting Dissenters: Tactics of Retaliation

Spotlight the Whistleblower, Not the Wrongdoing

Build a Damaging Record against the Whistleblower

Threaten Them

Isolate Them

Set Them Up for Failure

Physically Attack Them

Eliminate Their Jobs

Paralyze Their Careers

Blacklist Them

- Neutralizing Dissent: Tactics of Cover-Up

Gag the Employees

Study It to Death

Separate Expertise from Authority

Institutionalize Conflict of Interest

Keep Them Ignorant

Prevent the Development of a Written Record

Rewrite the Issues

Scapegoat the Small Fry


Chapter Three: What to Know Before You Blow

- Be Clear about Your Objectives

- Anonymity versus Going Public

Questions to Help You Decide

- Thirteen Essential Survival Tips

- Maintaining Your Sanity

- Relationships, Relationships, Relationships!

Building Partnerships

- Gathering More Information

Corporate Filings

Other Information in the Public Record

Freedom of Information Act

Public Interest Organizations and the Media

- A Note on Defamation

Public Figures versus Private Citizens

Truth as an Absolute Defense

Chapter Four: Where to Go When You Want to Blow

- Whistle Where You Work: The Corporate Channels

In-House Disclosure Programs

Going up the Chain of Command

Pointers for Taking It up the Chain

-Whistleblowing to Regulators and Law Enforcement

The Problem of Regulatory Capture

Pointers for Taking It to an Agency

- Whistleblowing to Congress

Risks and Rewards of Taking It to Congress

Pointers for Taking It to Congress

- Blowing the Whistle on Fraud through the Courts

Origins of the False Claims Act

How a False Claims Suit Works

Considerations before Filing a False Claims Suit

- Whistleblowing and the Media

News Media

Pointers for Taking It to the News Media

New and Social Media

Pointers for Using Social and New Media

Chapter Five: Getting Help in Blowing the Whistle

- Advocacy Partners: A Whistleblower's Best Friend

Public Interest Organizations

Employee Organizations

Employee Support Organizations

Professional Associations

Considerations before Working with Advocacy Partners

Questions to Ask before Taking on an Advocacy Partner

- Whistleblowing on the Web

WikiLeaks and Similar Sites

- Whistleblowers and Their Lawyers

Considerations before Selecting a Lawyer

Pointers for Choosing a Lawyer

Pointers for Working with Your Lawyer

Terminating the Attorney-Client Relationship

Chapter Six: Whistleblowing and the Law

- SOX and Federal Whistleblower Statutes: A Mirage of Protection

Your Rights on Paper

SOX on Paper

Your Rights in Reality

What Went Wrong: OSHA

What Went Wrong: ARB

The Times Are They a-Changin'?

Pointers for Filing a SOX Whistleblower Complaint

- False Claims Act

- State Statutory Protections

- Common-Law Protections

Chapter Seven: Corporate Whistleblower Reform

- The Principles of Reform

Citizen Enforcement Act

- Corporate Policies and Guidelines

Corporate Whistleblower's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

- Alternative Dispute Resolution

Types of Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Hanford Concerns Council

Conclusion


Whistleblower Toolkit

Tool A: Filing a Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Complaint

Tool B: Sample FOIA Request Letter

Tool C: Public Interest Organizations

Tool D: Online Resources

Tool E: Federal Statutes with Corporate Whistleblower Provisions

Tool F: International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice

Tool G: International Best Practices for Whistleblower Policies

Tool H: Model Whistleblower Hotline Policy

Tool I: Model Citizen Enforcement Act

Acknowledgments

Notes

Glossary

Bibliography

Index

About the Government Accountability Project


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Excerpt

The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide

Introduction:
Whistleblowing in Corporate America

The new millennium ushered in a wave of corporate scandals that cheated ordinary shareholders and employees out of billions of dollars in lifetime savings, investments, and pensions. More than two dozen major accounting scandals followed the October 2001 discovery of Enron's sham bookkeeping, bribery, and energy market manipulation. Brought to light by whistleblowers at Enron, WorldCom, and other companies, these revelations seriously strained public confidence in the stock market and set off sweeping congressional reforms.

Legislators moved quickly to pass the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002—commonly known as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). Enforcement actions and criminal convictions continued apace. In 2003 the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) entered into a $1.435 billion settlement with 10 of the United States' largest investment firms over charges that the firms' bankers had inappropriate influence over their own analysts. In 2005 American International Group (AIG), the fourth-largest company in the world, came under investigation for accounting fraud in a scandal that cost the company $1.64 billion to settle with federal and state authorities and a $2.7 billion decline in its net worth.1

Post-Enron government action did little to stave off the reckless lending practices that arose from decades of government deregulation of the financial industry. Most notably, mortgage companies had been issuing shaky subprime loans and passing on the risk to investors in the gilded form of securitized mortgage credit. The inevitable financial losses in 2007 exposed other precarious loans and inflated assets and triggered a global financial crisis. On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers caved, filing the largest bankruptcy in US history. A panic in the financial markets accompanied sagging stock and housing prices, sending many large investment and commercial banks reeling. Congress and the Federal Reserve spent $700 billion and $1.2 trillion, respectively, on bailouts and emergency loans to large corporations, including the scandal-mired, government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that owned or guaranteed about half of the country's $12 trillion mortgage market.

In March 2009 corporate America again broke records when Wall Street investment adviser Bernard Madoff pled guilty to running the largest Ponzi scheme in history. After nearly two decades, the house of cards finally collapsed—leaving thousands of investors defrauded of $65 billion and forcing businesses, charities, and foundations around the world to close shop. Sadly, a whistleblower had spent 10 years trying to alert the government, industry, and press about the fraud. Damaged by the 2008–2009 economic implosion, scandals, and bailouts, public trust in corporate America has yet to be regained.

Unfortunately, corporate wrongdoing is not limited to large accounting firms, financial lenders, and publicly traded corporations. Every year thousands of employees from the full range of business organizations witness wrongdoing on the job. These discoveries may jeopardize the physical or financial well-being of others and endanger our shared environment and economy. Whistleblowers may see managers at a nuclear facility violate safety codes, a chemical company dump hazardous waste unlawfully, or a food-processing plant attempt to sell contaminated meat to consumers.

Most employees remain silent, concluding that it is not their concern or that nothing they could do would stop the problem. Often they cannot afford to get themselves into trouble. Remaining an uninvolved bystander, however, risks serious consequences for all but the tiny circle that profits from the abuse and deceit. Others choose to bear witness and speak out, seeking to make a difference by "blowing the whistle on unethical conduct in the workplace. This may sound like an elaborate undertaking, but even a simple note or a frank discussion with one's supervisors can sometimes suffice to bring about real change or spark retaliation.

At the Government Accountability Project (GAP), we define whistleblowers as individuals who use free-speech rights to challenge abuses of power that betray the public trust. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), the legal definition of whistleblowing as applied to government workers is disclosing information that an employee reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste, gross mismanagement, abuse of power, or substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.7 Corporate whistleblower rights, including SOX, are generally organized as witness protection clauses in enforcement provisions of selected parent statutes. Whatever the context, whistleblowers typically are insiders who learn of wrongdoing and decide to speak up about what they know—people of conscience who act for the good of the public at great personal risk.

Whistleblowers' actions have saved the lives of employees, consumers, and the general public, as well as billions of dollars in shareholder and taxpayer funds. Whistleblowers have averted nuclear accidents, exposed large-scale corporate fraud, and reversed the approval of unsafe prescription drugs. But rather than receive praise for their integrity, they are often targeted for retaliatory investigations, harassment, intimidation, demotion, or dismissal and blacklisting. Ernie Fitzgerald, a whistleblower who exposed billions of dollars of cost overruns at the Pentagon, described whistleblowing as "committing the truth, because employers often react as if speaking the truth about wrongdoing were tantamount to committing a crime.8

GAP was created to help employees "commit the truth and thereby serve the public interest. Since 1977 we have provided legal and advocacy assistance to thousands of employees who have blown the whistle on lawlessness and threats to public health, safety, and the environment. This experience has given GAP attorneys and organizers valuable insights into the strategies and the hazards of whistleblowing.

The Need for This Handbook

In 1977 GAP produced its first whistleblower primer, titled A Federal Employee's Guide to the Federal Bureaucracy. Twenty years later GAP distilled the knowledge it had accumulated into a publication titled The Whistleblower's Survival Guide: Courage without Martyrdom. Then in 2002 GAP, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) collaborated to write The Art of Anonymous Activism: Serving the Public while Surviving Public Service. Now, with corporate scandals continuing and the development of new private-sector whistleblower protections, we believe it is time to write a handbook tailored to the corporate whistleblower.

The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide draws from prior publications and GAP's experience assisting some 5,000 whistleblowers over the past 33 years. Our goal is to share lessons learned so that potential corporate whistleblowers know what they are getting into and can develop proactive strategies both to make a difference and to survive. We hope that a broad audience including concerned citizens, policymakers, journalists, and public interest groups will find its contents helpful in understanding the difficulties and the social significance of whistleblowing. Nevertheless, this handbook was written primarily with one set of readers in mind: private-sector employees of conscience.

Chapter 1 of this survival guide provides guidance for those who are making the weighty decision whether to blow the whistle. Chapter 2 discusses the dangers that whistleblowers face and should weigh into their decision making. Chapter 3 covers survival strategies for how best to blow the whistle and make a difference. It contains tips on how to go forward, often in the absence of adequate legal safeguards, without sacrificing your career. Chapter 4 discusses where to blow the whistle. Chapter 5 suggests possible allies along the way. Chapter 6 details the legal landscape in which the whistleblower stands. Chapter 7 makes recommendations for legislative and corporate reform, providing a blueprint for government and corporate leaders who recognize that it is bad business to silence or eliminate what is often their only warning signal of impending disaster.

The current patchwork of corporate laws fails to provide a coherent and functional system of legal rights. As a rule, instead of protection, whistleblowers who assert their "rights attract retaliation. The good news is that corporate whistleblowers can and do survive while bringing about positive change. But survival seldom comes from lawsuits in isolation. The key to committing the truth and getting away with it is strategic legal campaigns grounded in public solidarity that effectively turn information into power. This handbook reviews lessons learned and tactics that have worked despite the law.

Fortunately, times are a-changin'. When GAP was founded in 1977, whistleblowers were considered traitors. It was a weathervane of change when Sherron Watkins and Cynthia Cooper joined FBI attorney Coleen Rowley as the 2002 Persons of the Year. After the 2006 congressional elections, a Democracy Corps survey of likely voters rated strengthening whistleblowers' rights as one of their highest priorities for the new Congress, only behind eliminating illegal government spending.9

Accompanying this sea change have been promising shifts in the legal landscape. In 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley pioneered jury access for whistleblowers, which has since been emulated in nine significant laws covering the nuclear, ground transportation, retail commerce, health, and financial industries as well as defense contractors. These more refined statutes have perfected the relatively crude SOX 2002 pioneer statute, which itself was updated in the financial Dodd-Frank law. The Obama administration has appointed the strongest, most experienced team in history to enforce corporate whistleblower laws through administrative adjudication.

And yet the promised land of comprehensive, consistent whistleblower rights is still on the other side of the rainbow. Until that goal is reached, whistleblowers will have to rely on their wits, not necessarily their rights. Hopefully, this book will provide critical guidance on whether and how to commit the truth and thus turn information into power.

A Message to Corporate Leaders

While this handbook is a corporate survival guide for whistleblowers, there is an overarching lesson to be learned by corporate leaders: it is bad business to kill or silence the messenger. Rarely do whistleblowers want to break ranks with their employer or risk being exiled from the workplace. The overwhelming majority are motivated by loyalty to the company and professional pride in its positive role in society. They first try to work within the corporate system. A 2010 Ethics Resource Center report, supplementing its 2009 National Business Ethics Survey, found that only 4 percent of whistleblowers made their disclosures outside the corporate system, and only 3 percent even to hotlines; 46 percent went to their supervisor.10 If you respond constructively and in good faith, all the sections in this handbook about strategy, advocacy, and legal rights become irrelevant.

Whistleblowers fear personal and institutional liability. They are concerned with the consequences of nearsighted corporate bureaucrats whose internal misconduct creates long-term threats to the company or society. Instead of remaining silent due to fear of retaliation or cynicism, whistleblowers should be an invaluable asset to corporate leadership in exposing corruption that betrays the company's own interests and the public trust.

When whistleblowers who overwhelmingly are loyal to the company remain "silent observers, you lose. The 2010 Ethics Resource Center report also found that while some 50 percent of employees witness misconduct on the job, roughly 40 percent do not act on their knowledge.11 Those 40 percent have tremendous potential to prevent or recoup losses. A 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers global crime survey of more than 5,400 corporations in 40 countries found that over 40 percent had been victimized by one or more serious economic crimes and that 80 percent of that group reported damage or significant damage to their institutions.12 The average loss from fraud per company was more than $3.2 million in 2007.13 Furthermore, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that whistleblower hotlines as well as internal and external sources were the initial means of detection in 43 percent of the cases, more than the combined results from corporate security, internal audits, fraud risk management, rotation of personnel, and law enforcement.14 Similarly, a 2008 report of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), reviewing 959 cases of fraud, credited exposure of 46.2 percent of that fraud to tipsters compared with only 3.2 percent detected by law enforcement; 57.7 percent of the tips came from employees. The ACFE advised that employees "should be encouraged to report illegal or suspicious behavior, and they should be reassured that reports may be made confidentially and that the organization prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers.15 It pays to listen to the messenger.

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) calls whistleblowers the "canaries in the coalmine. Of course no one wants bad news that will disrupt short-term production schedules or profits. But the unwelcome news may be invaluable in preventing disasters that you may not know about until there are garish headlines of scandal or tragedy for which you may be held responsible, with damage control the only option left. At GAP we view a corporation's response to whistleblowers as a measure of organizational maturity—a test of willingness to defer short-term gratification for long-term benefit. We hope that through your leadership you will make this handbook irrelevant to your employees.

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Endorsements

"Tom Devine and the Government Accountability Project's thirty-plus years of protecting and guiding whistleblowers has been distilled into an informative and insightful handbook. This handbook is required reading for anyone considering blowing the whistle."

--Rick and Donna Parks, Three Mile Island nuclear plant cleanup whistleblowers

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