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Project On Government Oversight


Introduction: Before you dive in


LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The material in this e-course is provided for informational purposes only. Nothing in this email should be construed as legal advice. Before you act on any of the material in this guide, the authors STRONGLY urge you to seek legal counsel.

Whether you chose to subscribe to this course as an educational insight into whistleblowing or as a preliminary exploration of your options upon witnessing wrongdoing, know that we intend for you to be equipped with knowledge to empower you to make an informed decision on how to proceed.

The most important point is that it is possible to fight wrongdoing from within an organization without sacrificing your career or exposing your identity.

Throughout this course, you'll learn:

  • Why whistleblowing is important and professionally dangerous
  • How to blow the whistle anonymously
  • How best to protect your identity in the digital age
  • How to navigate the bureaucracy of making an official disclosure
  • How to work with the press
  • The legal protections against retaliation and the limits of these protections

Who they are, why they matter

For reference, this course defines whistleblower as:

An individual who works inside an organization—including the federal government and its private sector contractors—and discloses and challenges abuses of power or other failings of their organization that betray the public trust

The very health of democracy in the United States, the long-term viability of its economy, and public health, safety, and security depend on truth-tellers to shine light on corruption and other illegalities. Without brave individuals’ commitment to holding the government accountable, the American people are unable to trust that the government is working ethically and in the interest of its constituents.

Public service does not mean blind obedience to one’s supervisor or subservience to an agenda that subverts the law and the public interest.

The press and pop culture sometimes cast whistleblowers in a glamorous light. But for every well-known whistleblower, including analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers; FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who blew the whistle on the FBI’s failures leading up to 9/11; and Enron executive Sherron Watkins, who brought to light the company’s rampant fraud, there are countless others who suffered anonymously.

Deciding to blow the whistle can be the single most important professional decision an individual ever makes.

First, the bad news

Research shows the possibility of retaliation is a significant barrier to people blowing the whistle.

According to a government survey of federal workers in 2010, “approximately one-third of individuals who felt they had been identified as a source of a report of wrongdoing also perceived either threats or acts of reprisal, or both.” And despite the passage of the landmark Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in 2012—critical in increasing legal protections against retaliation—an updated 2017 employee survey found that about 30 percent of government employees say they fear retaliation if they report wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, confusion and lack of awareness about whistleblower rights by employees and managers alike are widespread. And disclosures by employees continue to anger bosses who face scrutiny as a result.

The good news

Legal rights are getting stronger and the chances of gaining protection from retaliation have improved.

Congress unanimously passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which reversed over a decade of hostile court rulings, outlawed agency gag orders, and offered reinforced protection against scientific censorship, among other key changes. While federal sector employees are still covered by a patchwork of legal protections, the government is slowly making way for greater transparency and accountability through these changes.

And this is just the beginning. Above all, with this course, we hope that you will be able to make an informed decision on how best to expose wrongdoing if you are ever faced with that situation.


There is a vibrant community of concerned citizen-activists who seek to aid those patriots who struggle to serve the public good. For a deeper look at what's out there, read our full survival guide, Caught Between Conscience and Career. Jump into the full introduction now.

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Material for this e-course is pulled from Caught Between Conscience and Career, a joint effort of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Government Accountability Project, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibiltiy (PEER).

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.

We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.

Enjoying this course? Let us know here.

Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
1100 G Street NW Suite 500, Washington, DC