Review: Whistleblower Laws

In The Successes and Failures of Whistleblower Laws, Robert G. Vaughn puts his life-long interest in perspective. A background with Nader’s Raiders studying federal agencies, work as an attorney representing whistleblowers, academic research and insights gained through study abroad facilitate Vaughn’s ability to evaluate the laws through theory and practice, stories and themes.

From Stanley Milgram to the Stanford prison experiments, My Lai Massacre and civil rights cases, Vaughn explores those who actually took up the adage, ‘question authority’ and the laws that evolved to protect them. He delves into famous cases, such as that of Frank Serpico and Daniel Ellsberg, as well as those far more obscure but also important. We also see how protections largely started in the civil service and spread to the private sector.

Important topics include institutional failure and regulatory capture, narrowing interpretations, the challenges of national security, the global context, and the importance public interest organizations in the success of civil society.  The final chapters analyze whistleblower laws from the perspective of public vs private interests, individual rights vs institutional cohesion, ending with an informative discussion of Dodd-Frank provisions, which need to address the incentives against reporting to regulatory agencies such as:

obedience to authority, adoption of informal standards of conduct at odds with legal ones, group loyalty, retaliation, ineffective legal protections, and cynicism about the effects of disclosure.

Vaughn provides a first-rate account of decades of successes and failures. There is nothing else like it. However, never fully satisfied even with outstanding work, I would have liked to see at least mention of alternative reporting mechanisms, such as ombudsman programs. See, for example, The Organizational Ombudsman: Origins, Roles, and Operations–A Legal Guide.

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