Report Corruption But Pick Your Fight

The author says that there are a few concerns to keep in mind when reporting instances of corruption or wrongdoing inside of an organization.

Employers have the right and responsibility to investigate allegations of waste, fraud and abuse by employees.  The internal affairs function of investigating allegations of wrongdoing is the responsibility of a variety of organizations.  Whatever the office title, offices of Inspector General, Professional Standards or Professional Responsibility, all have the mission to investigate allegations of criminal or administrative employee misconduct.

Any office responsible for internal investigations is an arm of that organization’s management.  Therefore, the office which investigates wrongdoing by department employees is not independent.  Theoretically, the office is a management tool responsible for professionally and aggressively investigating charges of wrongdoing.  However, there may be times when allegations may not be honestly addressed, but instead are covered up either to protect the guilty or to avoid management’s embarrassment.

At times, employees are aware of corruption or wrongdoing but are reluctant to report it for fear of retaliation or just because of an ingrained understanding not to get involved.  Even when allegations of unethical behavior are reported there are times when employees believe only a cursory investigation will be conducted in order to conceal or mitigate the charges.

Minor mistakes, lapses of judgment or policy violations are often overlooked.  Violations of criminal law should never be ignored.  Acts of corruption leave an indelible mark on the one who commits the act, on the organization and others associated with the program or activity.  Employees who want to serve, help, protect, and do the best job they can are ‘assets’ of any organization.

An asset can also be an employee who is fed up with corruption, misconduct, or inaction.  An asset can supply information and follow his or her conscience to improve their life and the lives of others.

However, reporting wrongdoing can be a painful experience.  Everyone wants to be accepted by his or her peers and others.  Some supervisors will peg an asset as a troublemaker because information that may have been known but never officially discussed or never documented is now in the open.

A whistleblower is one who reports unethical or illegal conduct.  According to The Whistleblower’s Survival Guide published by the Government Accountability Project, whistleblowers’ actions may save lives and billions of dollars.  However, rather than being rewarded for their integrity, many times a whistleblower is retaliated against by intimidation, demotion, or dismissal and blacklisting.

As an asset, a whistleblower can and does make a difference and will be in good company.  Coleen Rowley, an FBI Special Agent reported FBI failures made prior to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.  W. Mark Felt, retired FBI Associate Director, was identified as ‘Deep Throat,’ the individual who gave information to Washington Post reporters which eventually caused the resignation of President Richard Nixon.  Frank Serpico was reportedly the first officer in the history of the New York City Police Department to report and testify openly about police corruption.  But these most famous assets were harassed and intimidated, including W. Mark Felt, who was not definitively identified as ‘Deep Throat’ for more than 35 years.

There is a solution for anyone who is fed up with corruption or inaction to wrongdoing.  An employee can follow his or her conscience, report the misconduct, and improve their life at least in the work place.  But there are a few concerns to remember.

There are many avenues for an employee to report allegations.  If little faith is held in departmental efforts, a report can be made to one of many other entities, but the choice must be made carefully.

There are important issues and responsibilities of which the asset must be aware:

  • Pick your fight.  Do not report every act of wrongdoing.  Some wrongdoing may only be a perception, a difference of opinion or administrative error.  If any organization receives numerous reports that sound like ‘sour grapes’ or minor allegations of misconduct from the same department then that organization may discount future reports.  Remember organizations communicate with each other and much of the reported information may be shared.  Also, allegations of minor misconduct may just be referred back to the owning organization.
  • Know the facts.  Report as much information as possible including names, dates, times, location of documents, etc. without embellishing any facts.  It is better to understate than over report.  Do not act on rumors.
  • To avoid recriminations or retaliation the asset must stay anonymous.  However, information from an anonymous whistleblower maybe treated substantially different than information from a known source.  Anonymous information may not be acted upon even if it involves serious criminal allegations.  This is true whether the information is reported to the organization in which the wrongdoing took place or an outside organization.  However, when reported to an outside organization the information is less likely to be ignored.

Some organizations or individuals who might be interested in and take action on information of corruption within the federal realm are:

  • A newspaper or television station
  • Congressional representative or Senator
  • Office of the United States Attorney
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • U.S. Department of Justice – Public Integrity Section

Media and Congressional interests can include criminal violations, but there might also be interest in administrative wrongdoing if it is sufficiently serious or involves high ranking officials.  A prosecutor, the Department of Justice or FBI will most likely only take action on probable criminal allegations, although there could be interest in civil sanctions.

  • Crime Stoppers USA is a good way to report anonymous information.
    The organization operates a secure tip line which technology allows for anonymous reporting.  Anonymity is guaranteed if the Crime Stoppers affiliate uses TipSoft®.  Check out Crime Stoppers @  Make sure the affiliate uses TipSoft® before you submit information.  Crime Stoppers USA will forward information to any organization specified.

Offices which investigate employee misconduct are professionally trained and managed.  However, at times the most ethical individual is placed in a situation beyond their control.  If a fair and honest investigation of misconduct is doubtful, an allegation can be forwarded to appropriate authorities outside the control of department leadership.

Remember, report corruption but choose carefully what you report.  If you choose to stay anonymous you are protected from repercussions.  However, your report may be suspect and therefore not taken seriously.

John F. Hein is an adjunct instructor of criminal justice for the American Public University System and a retired executive of the former U.S. Customs Service. He served 35 years in civilian and military security and law enforcement agencies. He is a member of ASIS International, an association of security professionals, and has been a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) since 2001. He is the author of Inside Internal Affairs: An In-Depth Look at the People, Process and Politics, published by Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc.