As 2019 drew toward a close, TIME Magazine offered the American public a rare look at the public servants who keep the nation running. Typically tucked away in their offices and focused on their work, career federal employees bring a wide array of skills and expertise to their jobs. They may serve under multiple administrations, regardless of political affiliations, and they don’t often make the news.
That changed in 2019 when impeachment hearings drew several of these employees squarely into the national spotlight. As TIME noted, these people didn’t want the attention they were given, nor did they want to cause trouble. But like all federal employees, they had sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States. For their efforts to honor their oaths, TIME Magazine named them its Guardians of the Year.
How it can be hard to do the right thing
The TIME article focused largely on the concept of whistleblowing, and it mentioned that the nation’s founders had defined protections for whistleblowers even before they had written the Constitution. Those protections have since been updated and redefined, but they exist to shield the nation and its agencies against fraud, misconduct and abuses of power.
Still, it can be difficult to understand these ideas in the context of your daily life. During a politically supercharged age, you might be asked to demonstrate your loyalty to your agency or boss. But as an article in the Federal News Network reminds us, your Oath is to the Constitution, not your agency or boss.
- You can still be held accountable for following unlawful orders, and you won’t be excused simply because you were “just following orders.”
- You need to follow lawful orders, even if you disagree with them.
- You should understand the difference between breaking the law and violating a regulation. The Merit Systems Protection Board has previously ruled that employees could be disciplined or removed for failing to complete their work, even if it would have violated regulations.
- Your duty isn’t to your boss or your agency, but to the American people.
When you witness wrongdoing, you have the right to call it out. However, to gain the full protection available under the law, you need to follow the rules.
The nation is always changing
As TIME noted, whistleblowers have often suffered, but they have also shaped our nation’s history. According to the article, the whistleblowers of 2019 became the proud successors to a legacy of whistleblowers who have saved lives and upheld the nations’ reputation. In the end, the best whistleblowers don’t work to advance a political agenda but to strengthen the Constitution and the nation.