New President, New Whistleblowing Era
After the extended period of gloom and doom throughout 2020, new energy and direction arrived with the US presidential elections in November. It was an election of firsts in several ways. Global pandemic or no, a record-breaking 168 million people came out to vote. President Joe Biden won against all odds. His running mate, Kamala Harris is the first woman of color to occupy the office of Vice-President.
With a new administration comes renewed opportunities to safeguard the rights of upright citizens. Many courageous individuals continue to speak truth to power at grave personal and professional risks.
Whistleblowers had a particularly rough ride during the Trump administration. One of the most well-known cases is the scandal involving former President Trump himself. A whistleblower's complaint accused Trump of abusing his power to solicit international interference in the 2020 elections.
Details emerged of Trump’s sustained attempts to coerce Ukraine into investigating his then opponent, Joe Biden. Not only did he endanger national security, but some of the top brass in his administration also tried to cover up the matter. Trump publicly called out the whistleblower and received severe backlash for it worldwide.
The arrival of the Biden-Harris administration is an excellent opportunity to strengthen whistleblower protections. The Biden-Harris team has already pledged numerous changes to demonstrate its commitment towards accountability and transparency. Notably, the appointment of Rick Bright to the Coronavirus Taskforce has kickstarted the long road to repair. During the Trump administration, authorities removed Bright as the Director of HHS for refusing to promote a malaria drug as the cure for the virus.
As the incoming administration begins charting the road ahead for the country, the whistle-blower community hopes leaders will pay close attention to critical areas. Some of these are increased protection of frontline workers and their rights, along with enhanced public health and safety.
Battling the virus and economic recovery go hand-in-hand. The country will be looking to team Biden-Harris to ramp up vigilance and prevent large-scale misappropriation of COVID relief funds. Like any global crisis, some groups always stand to profit more than others. However, given the unprecedented loss of lives and livelihoods in 2020, there can no longer be further scope for error in this regard.
Alongside, the new administration also has the opportunity to establish trust with the public from the get-go. There is a dire need to appoint task forces or set up online platforms to share accurate information or dispel any misinformation related to the virus.
With a new federal government, there is hope that ordinary citizens can speak the truth without fearing for their lives. Collective endeavors among civil society, federal agencies, and independent agencies will be deal-breakers – one of the only ways to ensure an accountable government and build societies that do not demonize whistleblowers.