Effective government cannot take place if whistle-blowers are threatened into silence. With the recent scandals that have come to light, it is time to determine whether agencies are committed to protecting whistle-blowers. If the government fails to defend those employees who blow the whistle on waste or fraud, then the government effectively endorses a culture of reckless spending and unaccountability.
As economic growth has slowed in an already economically embattled America, now is the key time to commit to government efficiency. As several Members of Congress recently pointed out, “Cutting the fat and tightening the belt are things that all American families do. It’s wrong if the federal government refuses to do the same.”
Investigating and exposing waste in the government not only has the salutary effect of increasing accountability, but it has a concomitant influence on the government’s culture of spending. While requests were made to 32 federal agencies for records on spending on commemorative coins and awards, one might label gift spending as negligible compared to, say, Department of Defense contracts yielding illegal kickbacks. Conceded, but spending taxpayer dollars on commemorative items reveals just how numb our tax-dollar-funded federal employees have become to the idea of self-stewardship.
Callousness toward wasteful spending and a corresponding vitriol toward whistle-blowers has become epidemic in Washington. A first step to curing Washington of its culture of waste is to treat the illness by promoting and maintaining a culture that protects whistle- blowers. Only then will the president’s ethics pledge avoid what taxpayer-funded commemorative coins have turned out to be: of empty value.
Dan Epstein is executive director of Cause of Action, which seeks to expose waste, fraud and mismanagement in the federal government.