03/21/2014 (press release: KGWhistleblower) // Jeffrey F. Keller
Whistleblowers have proven a remarkably effective weapon in the fight on fraud, uncovering wrongdoing in areas like Medicare and Medicaid, financial markets and banking, pharmaceuticals, and the defense industry. If U.S. lawmakers get their way, that success will soon be expanding into another area: fighting corruption at the U.N.
In January, the U.S. Congress passed an appropriations bill — subsequently signed into law by President Obama — that calls for the country’s annual contribution to the U.N. to be reduced 15 percent if the organization does not establish protections for employee whistleblowers. Between 2006 and 2011, some 300 whistleblowers reported that they had been subjected to retaliation for speaking out about wrongdoing at the U.N., according to the Government Accountability Project, an advocacy group that has long been pushing for greater whistleblower protections.
Corruption problems at the U.N. are “quite widespread,” says the group’s executive director, Bea Edwards. In one case that helped to spur the new U.S. law, a U.N. employee was fired after reporting that a $5 billion construction project in Kosovo included $500 million in illegal kickbacks. While the U.N. initially determined that the firing was not retaliation, an internal court, the U.N. Dispute Tribunal, later ruled that it was, and awarded the whistleblower $50,000 in damages.
“Whistleblowers are the eyes and ears that can identify improper behavior, and it is essential to support these individuals,” says Jeffrey F. Keller, a founding partner at Keller Grover, a nationally recognized labor and employment law firm, and a veteran whistleblower lawyer. “The United States has had great success empowering whistleblowers to fight fraud and corruption, and one of the reasons why is the protections they’ve put in place to keep whistleblowers from experiencing retaliation.”
In the United States, the country’s gold standard of whistleblower statutes — the False Claims Act — has spurred the recovery of more than $34 billion in improperly paid taxpayer funds since the mid-1980s. In recent years, federal agencies — including the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission — have launched their own whistleblower programs, and an increasing number of states have enacted or expanded statutes, as well.
For the U.N., hundreds of millions of dollars could be lost if stronger whistleblower protections are not put in place. But the stakes, says whistleblower experts, are actually much higher. “By enacting these protections, the U.N. won’t just gain full funding from the U.S., but a potent weapon on fraud,” says Keller, whose firm has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco. “It will be able to identify and shut down the corruption that costs the U.N. — and all the global citizens it aims to assist.”