Next year, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will launch a new whistleblower caucus. It will also mark his fourth full decade in Congress. Grassley wants to impart some of his passion for whistleblowers to the next generation of lawmakers.
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Grassley: Well, all you have to do is get back to the basics of government. The people that wrote the Constitution didn't want one person -- George III -- running everything. So, they divided up Congress to be a legislative body, judicial to interpret law, and the president to enforce the law. My constitutional responsibility isn't just to pass laws, it's also to be a check on the executive branch of government. Okay, there's hundreds of ways you can be a check on the executive branch of government. But you have to know where the skeletons are buried. You have to know where wrong is being done, where money is being misspent. Quite frankly, you ask why I respect whistleblowers so much and am interested in their legislation. It's because this bureaucracy is so big. You can be the best senator, you can have the best investigative team, but if you don't know where all the skeletons are buried you rely on whistleblowers for that information.
Morris: This Spring, you kicked off a new effort - seeking a whistleblower caucus. Where does that effort stand today? And why is it necessary?
Grassley: I've just announced it. We have a good democrat co-chairman, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). He and I work very well together on many issues. Where it starts is, just now getting membership. But we won't officially kick off until January the third. The purpose of it is to get more senators involved in oversight, more senators appreciating whistleblowers, and sending a signal to whistleblowers -- come forth if you've got something to tell us. So many people, even though there are whistleblower protection laws, they don't really trust that their rights are going to be protected.
Morris: What role does the Merit Systems Protection Board play? Do they have enough power?
Grassley: No, they don't have enough power. I think they do a lot of good. But I think that they could be more aggressive. I think we ought to strengthen them to some extent.
Morris: For taxpayers, this is a simple issue. Whistleblowers pinpoint fraud, waste, and abuse. For federal managers, it's more complicated. Whistleblowers can damage an agency's reputation. How do you advise those executives?
Grassley: I don't think that's a problem. In fact, it's a problem when a manager is concerned about hurting the reputation of an institution. It's a little bit like one time an FBI director was briefing all the Senate. He was talking about 'Our institution, our institution.' I popped up and said, 'It's not your institution. We're all working for the American people.' That's what you've got to think about. This is not a smokestack government we have. We've got to cooperate between agencies. If there had been more cooperation between the CIA and FBI before 9/11 we wouldn't have had 9/11. So, we changed the law. The point is, the manager that's got the attitude that a whistleblower might hurt the organization, that's the culture that has to be changed. That can't be tolerated. Because he's working for the American people not for his organization.
Morris: You've been on the cutting edge of this issue for three decades. Does changing technology make it tough to keep up?
Grassley: No, I think it helps. I think with all the email that goes around, you've got more sources to get to the bottom of things if you can get the information. There's just more there now that's kind of recorded and protected.
Morris: Senator Chuck Grassley, thanks.
Grassley: Glad to be with you. Of course.