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GAP’s Accomplishments & Progress in 2014
Protecting whistleblowers has never been more relevant or necessary. Some of the most pressing issues that faced our nation throughout 2014 were brought to public attention by insiders who needed our protection to disclose wrongdoing. In the past year, GAP has had an extraordinary influence in the fight for transparency, accountability and integrity. We have exposed deeply rooted corruption, released critical information that the public needs and has a right to know, and have held the federal government and corporations accountable.
Some of our prominent successes in 2014 include:
- GAP began the representation of a North Carolina poultry farmer and Purdue contractor who had allowed outside filming of his facilities to show the inhumane animal treatment and conditions at Purdue. The explosive story broke nationally at the end of 2014 with a blistering column by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.
- GAP advanced our investigative efforts in 2014 by continuing to conduct on-sight and in-person interviews with USDA meat inspectors from around the country. GAP continued to help lead the fight against the USDA’s Modernization of Poultry Inspection Rule (HIMP). We took action by using anonymous affidavits from meat and poultry inspector whistleblowers which disclosed to the national media the serious public health threat the rule poses to the integrity of our food. While GAP and coalition partners did successfully stall HIMP, the USDA finalized the rule in the summer of 2014 after providing some concessions. In October 2014, GAP joined consumer and worker rights organizations in filing a joint amicus brief supporting a lawsuit that challenged the new rules. The brief relied heavily on whistleblowers’ statements stemming from our investigation into federal meat inspector concerns.
- In 2014, GAP continued to be a public voice against controversial state anti-whistleblower (“Ag-Gag”) bills and laws that aim to criminalize food industry whistleblowing by prohibiting the shooting of video at agricultural processing facilities without the written consent of the owner. While we helped defeat most of the twenty-four bills that were introduced, Idaho and Utah unfortunately succeeded in passing an Ag-Gag bill. GAP filed amicus briefs to fight the new laws in both of these states.
- At the 2014 Whistleblower Summit on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, GAP’s Food Integrity Director Amanda Hitt was featured in a panel that explored Ag-Gag laws and how whistleblowers are increasingly facing criminal investigations and prosecutions. Ms. Hitt also spoke at Yale Law School at a conference which examined the impact of Ag-Gag laws on freedom of speech, health, food safety, consumer advocacy, animal welfare, and the environment.
- In 2014, GAP continued our investigation in the Gulf Coast involving British Petroleum (BP) workplace safety abuses, within the context of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup efforts. After visiting the key Gulf States affected, GAP worked with over 25 whistleblowers involving environmental and public health and safety threats that sharply contrasted with BP and government denials and reassurances.
- In 2014, GAP collected new statements from witnesses and experts close to the BP spill which demonstrated that the public health and environmental issues we helped uncover about the BP oil spill have not gone away. New witnesses revealed that Gulf seafood is increasingly being shown to be contaminated across the entire food chain and workers and residents continue to suffer significant public health threats from the dispersant Corexit.
- Before sadly passing away in the fall of 2014, GAP’s Climate Science Watch (CSW) Director Rick Piltz regularly appeared as a U.S. climate change analyst-commentator on Al Jazeera English TV. The program was available in Washington, DC, New York, and other U.S. cities; in every major European market; and in 130 million homes in more than 100 countries via cable and satellite; as well as online. Piltz also appeared on “Inside Story USA,” on a panel about the global warming denial machine and the challenge of government accountability on climate science and policy. Piltz also: conducted an interview with Marketplace, which aired on NPR, and was interviewed and quoted by online media, including: Climate Central, Climate Wire, and Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. Piltz’s article “Smog Rules” was published in Index on Censorship, the London-based publication of Britain’s leading organization promoting freedom of expression.
- GAP's CSW website continued to be an essential tool for documenting our work in the context of current national policy developments. During the final four-month period of 2014 the site averaged 18,000 ‘unique visitors’ monthly. More than 20% of readership was international, most frequently from China, Germany, France, and Great Britain. CSW posts included original analysis, advocacy, and documentation by Piltz, his research assistants, and guest contributors on such topics as: developments in the Obama Administration and Congress; the global warming denial machine; and the impacts of global climate disruption.
- During 2014, GAP continued to receive requests to investigate whistleblower concerns and expanded our Corporate and Financial Accountability efforts by litigating both ongoing and new whistleblower reprisals cases, and investigating current and new confidential whistleblower allegations of bank and financial wrongdoing.
- During 2014 GAP identified and directly challenged corporate resistance to new protections GAP helped develop now covering over 80,000,000 corporate employees who previously had only minimal legal protection. GAP fought corporate attempts to criminalize whistleblowing; employer challenges to provisions requiring the reinstatement of whistleblowers after favorable Department of Labor investigative rulings but before a hearing; corporate attempts to force chilling agreements on departing employees; gag settlements on whistleblowers; and banking industry challenges to whistleblowers who, under the new law, are now allowed to use confidential corporate documents as evidence to prove their cases. We also actively worked to try to counteract the federal government’s ineffectiveness in regulating, addressing and reforming financial and banking corruption as revealed by whistleblowers.
- Also in 2014, on the fourth anniversary of the passage of Dodd-Frank, GAP teamed up with law firm Labaton Sucharow to lead a large national coalition to outlaw gag orders used to silence corporate and banking whistleblowers and combat retaliation they so often endure. Joining us in this critical effort were more than 250 organizations -- including the widely influential national coalition Americans for Financial Reform representing a wide range of civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, civic and community groups -- with nearly two million members. We demanded that the SEC establish a strengthened Whistleblower Program. Our petition received immediate prolific coverage in The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; The Washington Post; Bloomberg Law; Inside Counsel; American Lawyer; Compliance Week; Law 360; Value Walk; and Corp Counsel.
- GAP and our broad coalition of organizations also submitted a second, non-rulemaking, petition demanding the SEC: (i.) launch a series of public hearings to discuss the problem of workplace retaliation and ways to increase reporting; (ii.) create an Advisory Committee on Whistleblower Reporting and Protection; and (iii.) engage in appropriate rulemaking to clarify and strengthen whistleblower protections.
NATIONAL SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTS
- In 2014, the Department of Justice continued to criminally prosecute increasing numbers of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. Five out of GAP’s six National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblowers were criminally investigated: two were charged with crimes, Tom Drake and Edward Snowden. In 2013, as result of GAP client Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the American public learned that the NSA has conducted, and continues to conduct, wholesale surveillance of U.S. citizens through a secretive data-mining program. Snowden’s decision to release documents to selective media was based on his scrutiny of the treatment of NSA whistleblowers – Drake and other GAP clients/ and former executive-level NSA employees William Binney, Ed Loomis and J. Kirk Wiebe -- who endured years of criminal investigation and whose homes were invaded by SWAT teams after they raised their concerns to their immediate bosses, and up the chain of command to the Department of Defense Inspector General. In 2014, GAP continued to tell their stories focusing media attention on their substantive concerns, the reprisals they have suffered, the assault on civil liberties, and the inadequate remedies available for those who raise national security concerns.
- We visited over 25 Congressional offices to provide briefings to staff and members about Snowden’s revelations.
- In 2014, GAP and five of our NSA whistleblowers made presentations to the Peace and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to make recommendations about reforming intelligence agency practices and operations.
- GAP’s National Security and Human Rights Director, and GAP clients/NSA whistleblowers Tom Drake and William Binney testified before a German Bundestag NSA investigation committee to provide testimony for its globally-significant investigation into the NSA’s mass surveillance operations. GAP stressed to the Committee that what we know about the NSA’s invasive and ineffective mass surveillance operation is only available because of whistleblowers.
- In 2014, GAP helped further establish a Whistleblowing International Network (WIN). In addition to GAP in the United States, other founding members of this coalition include the following leading international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on whistleblowing: Public Concern at Work (United Kingdom); the Open Democracy and Advice Centre (South Africa); the Whistleblowers Network (Germany); and, the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (Canada). The WIN Steering Group is composed of its five founding members and other leading NGOs who can advise us on our strategic development and global outreach. Our advisors include the Commonwealth Initiative for Human Rights (India), Accion Ciudadana (Guatemala), and the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Chile.
- Serving as a central meeting point for leading international NGOs focused on whistleblowing, like-minded individuals and groups around the world, WIN provides critically needed access to resources and first-hand knowledge detailing how to protect whistleblowers across borders. In 2014, we helped develop a website for WIN and to build up an email list-serve spanning 31 countries. These tools enable WIN participants to: get support on individual cases; inform each other of new laws and legislative projects, such as the OAS’ interest in witness protection and a Serbian draft bill on protecting whistleblowers; discuss and debate the application of law to practical situations; direct journalists and interested parties to GAP or other experts; and receive updates on whistleblower protections, new initiatives and public debate.
- After our 13-year campaign the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) became law on November 27, 2012. However, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee successfully held up final passage until all whistleblower protections for national security whistleblowers were stripped from the bill. Similarly, he forced Congress to strip national security whistleblower protections for government contractors in the companion whistleblower reform legislation covering all government contractors. We successfully pressured the White House to issue an Executive Order (Presidential Policy Directive 19, or PPD) to restore limited protections for intelligence agency employees who blow the whistle through approved channels. In June 2014 Congress unanimously passed, and in July the President signed, the first enforceable statutory whistleblower rights for government workers at intelligence agencies. It expanded and codified actions detailed in the PPD as well as some internal agency regulations. While the legislation is a strong step toward a safe alternative to leaks for potential whistleblowers in the intelligence community, there are still weaknesses which must be addressed and contractors remain excluded.
- In 2014, GAP worked with congressional oversight committees and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to codify structural reforms and to make the OSC and the Merit Systems Protection Board procedures more user-friendly for whistleblowers.
- GAP provided government training on whistleblower rights and monitored agency compliance with the OSC Certification Program. GAP and the Project on Government Oversight collaborated with the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General to provide government-wide training for the Whistleblower Ombudsman Working Group.