In January 2019, as part of the rules package adopted in the House of Representatives when the 116th United States Congress kicked off, the body — newly under Democratic control — created the office of the Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman.
It wasn’t deemed important enough, it seems, for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to name anyone to head the office in a timely manner.
That changed with a decided swiftness during the course of last year.
As impeachment drew to a close with a thud, it’s interesting to note that the speaker has named someone to lead the purportedly nonpartisan office — someone from one of the most liberal non-governmental organizations in Washington.
According to The Hill, Shanna Devine was appointed as the first whistleblower ombudsman last Friday.
“Whistleblowers shine a bright light on malfeasance in our government and the private sector,” the speaker said in a statement.
“There has long been a bipartisan commitment to protecting the voices of those who speak the truth and put their livelihoods on the line to root out waste, fraud and abuse.”
She added that Devine’s “deep policy experience will be vital, as the first-ever director of the Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman, as she works to ensure that the House has the support and tools to carry out our legislative oversight responsibilities for the American people.”
There are aspects of this announcement that are both worrisome and ironic.
Starting with the worrisome, Devine comes from Public Citizen, the Ralph Nader-founded nanny-state scold organization that treats the military budget and telecom mergers as if they were modern-day Chevrolet Corvairs.
Pelosi’s office says, according to The Epoch Times, that the office is supposed to be nonpartisan. Then why is it that the first House whistleblower ombudsman comes from a group that demands Congress strengthen whistleblower laws?
“Right now potential federal whistleblowers are discouraged from coming forward because of a lack of badly needed protections,” the group says right alongside an open letter on its website, urging people to write to Congress and demand an updated version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.
“We need stronger whistleblower protections so they can help us keep government accountable.”
There’s nothing potentially wrong about this, although some of Public Citizens’ suggestions veer suspiciously close to problematic when you consider the source.
(For instance, the group demands protections “[s]hielding employees by allowing them to refuse to violate illegal regulations;” in the Trump era, this sounds suspiciously like an allowance for unelected bureaucrats to disobey regulations they disagree with under the pretense of those regulations being illegal.)
However, why even bother picking someone from one of Washington’s most liberal NGOs if you wanted to keep some semblance of nonpartisanship, particularly when there’s a potential conflict of interest when it comes to whistleblower legislation that said NGO favors? If Pelosi wanted to establish credibility for the newly established office, this wasn’t a home run.
The pick itself wasn’t as conspicuous as the irony, however.
According to The Hill, the new office is supposed “to establish best practices for lawmakers to receive confidential information from whistleblowers about government wrongdoing.”
Now, this comes as we’ve just witnessed the most famous anonymous whistleblower complaint in the 21st century, and I’m curious whether Pelosi thinks how that whistleblower was treated meets those criteria.
If you’re going to blow the whistle on the president, for example, is it best practices to meet with the staff of a lawmaker from the opposition party?
Because that happened; the whistleblower met with some of California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff’s top aides before they filed their complaint, something Schiff initially wasn’t terribly forthcoming about.
If the whistleblower has met with the staff of that lawmaker, should that lawmaker then take an active role in whatever hearings and other official proceedings may occur? Because oh yeah, that happened, and how.
Schiff, previously a mediocrity unbeknownst to Americans who didn’t watch C-SPAN or “Meet the Press” with some religiosity, was one of the most prominent politicians in America for several months, helming part of the House’s impeachment inquiry and acting as one of the Democrats’ impeachment managers when the Senate conducted the trial.
Are the accused allowed to confront the whistleblower if there’s a hearing?
That didn’t happen. (Then again, the whistleblower was deemed wholly unimportant and was a distant memory by the time the whole thing hit the Senate, the Democrats having conveniently stuffed them into a memory hole.)
These are all interesting questions.
On one hand, Schiff mostly had Pelosi’s full support, so we kind of have our answer as to what “best practices” will look like for whistleblowers.
On the other hand, it’s a bit of a slap in the face to make this appointment right after the Schiff-led impeachment died on the operating table.
Whatever the case, it’s probably best the speaker kept this one in her pocket until after impeachment was over, though you can’t help but to enjoy the irony.
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