Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Determinants of Whistleblowing within Government Agencies

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Determinants of Whistleblowing within Government Agencies

Article excerpt


As an activity to inform on illegal and unethical behaviors in organizations, whistleblowing is one of the effective means to eradicate and prevent corruption. Information provision by insiders plays a critical role in resolving corruption issues because it is often difficult to detect structural problems from outside the organization. Whistleblowers, however, can easily access information about wrongdoing without great efforts (Burke & Cooper, 2013; Miethe & Rothschild, 1994).

One can observe the impact of whistleblowing in the private sector. Early in the 21st century, there were large corporate frauds such as the Enron and WorldCom cases in the United States. The corporate accounting scandals shocked the whole society (Bhal & Dadhich, 2011; Reginald Gernaldo, 2014) and Ms. Watkins, a vice-president of Enron, became famous for blowing the whistle on Enron's wrongdoing. Since then, the American society has seriously considered the importance of whistleblowing (Baynes, 2002). Existing studies have also argued that whistleblowing makes organizations more transparent and accountable (Apaza & Chang, 2011; Chiu, 2003; Jos, 1991; Keenan, 1990; Keil, Tiwana, Sainsbury, & Sneha, 2010).

The impact of whistleblowing can also be seen in the public sector. Brewer and Selden (1998) asserted that whistleblowing can cause substantial changes and facilitate reforms in government organizations. Watergate and the Challenger space shuttle incident are such examples. Whistleblowing in the public sector often saves people's lives as well as billions of taxpayer dollars. For example, in 2014, Phoenix Veterans Health Administration manipulated the waiting list of patients to obtain better evaluation, which resulted in the death of more than 40 veterans because they did not receive appropriate treatment on time. Had Dr. Sam Foote not blown the whistle, more people would have suffered from the malpractice (Bronstein & Griffin, 2014, April 24). For this incident, President Obama emphasized the importance of whistleblowing by saying, "Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out" (CBC News, 2013). From the quantitative perspective, the public sector shared a larger percentage of reporting of wrongdoing than the private sector. According to Brewer's (1996) review of 30 major newspaper articles over a 7-year period, 70% of the whistleblowing was raised in the public sector.

The acceptance of whistleblowing has developed over the last few decades. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 contributed to establishing a confidential whistleblowing mechanism and widening the range of protection for whistleblowers (Seifert, Stammerjohan, & Martin, 2014). The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 further strengthened the whistleblower protection more than its predecessor, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (Peffer et al., 2015). However, whistleblowers are still sometimes regarded as disloyal (Ashforth & Anand, 2003). Furthermore, whistleblowing is not an easy choice for individual employees in that they should take some risks to engage in whistleblowing. From the Phoenix Veterans Health Administration case, the whistleblower, Dr. Foote, went to the press only after retiring. He mentioned how much more difficult it is to whistleblow when employees know they will be fired once they speak out (Bronstein & Griffin, 2014, April 24). Whistleblowers confront fears of reprisal such as dismissal from employment, forced resignation, demotion, or social isolation at work (Chiu, 2003; Reginald Gernaldo, 2014; Smith, 2010). From this aspect, one can assume that perceived personal costs would substantially affect whistleblowing behaviors.

The current study contributes to the field of whistleblowing research in several ways by filling the research gaps. …

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