A continuing look at gag orders in the whistleblowing context

| Jan 25, 2021 | Whistleblower Protection

Know your rights. Don’t be frightened and intimidated by chilling actions aimed at stifling what you feel is important to say.

And don’t “sit on information that could help your agency and your country.”

Those words of advice are passionately conveyed by principals with the Government Accountability Office, a nonprofit whistleblower advocacy group. They earnestly seek to educate federal workers across the country about the vital importance of their speech rights in the workplace.

What writers Irvin McCullough and Aman Panjwani stress foremost is this: The safeguarding of those rights needs to be presently emphasized. And that is especially true concerning matters relevant to divulging government-linked “waste, fraud, abuse, threats to the public and safety” and other legal violations.

We underscored challenges to whistleblower prerogatives in a recent Devadoss Law Firm blog post. We noted in our January 20 entry that protections are often “materially tested by wrongdoers who seek to retaliate unlawfully against those who dare to spotlight their illegal acts.”

So-called “gag orders” are frequently the instruments employed to effect silence that might otherwise expose malfeasance and misconduct. Government agency managers often seek to impress upon targets of gag orders that those edicts and absolute and without restrictions.

The GAO promotes an alternative view, which actually underscores the truth as spelled out in the federal Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and supporting enactments.

That truth, as noted by McCullough and Panjwani, is this: “Gag orders cannot supersede workers’ whistleblower rights.” Moreover, any gag order – in whatever form it is presented – must be supplemented by a lengthy writing/reminder “that spells out the supremacy of workers’ speech rights.”

That balancing equation – tipped importantly toward disclosure rather than forced silence – is critically important for ensuring candor and disclosure in governmental affairs.

The GAO is making concerted efforts to remind federal employees of gag orders’ limitations, and their continued right to freely divulge government wrongdoing. It stresses that workers sought to be silenced should “seek out legal counsel and speak up.”

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