As social unrest and the COVID-19 response rock society, concerned citizens want a way to report misconduct for every aspect of society. Unfortunately the most effective statutes to report misconduct rarely can be used to hold government officials accountable for their actions.
While there are many laws that provide rights for whistleblowers, there is no doubt that the most effective are qui tam statutes that allow individuals the right to sue on behalf of the government.
Indeed One way to add mechanisms for justice would be by enacting new qui tam statutes through Congress. Essentially, these statutes would let private citizens sue the government to address a violation of power. Another would be for the Department of Justice and the States to use the authority of existing qui tam statutes when their funds are fraudulently used by city and local governments. Federal and state justice departments can move to make these laws more successful in these cases, but such efforts won’t work without their support.
On the other hand, States and even some local jurisdictions have been steadily adopting qui tam statutes over the past years to make it more possible to fight fraud committed against local governments. Since these statutes generally include rights for whistleblowers to sue for retaliation, the whole idea of rights for whistleblowers is becoming more entrenched in law.
What is Qui Tam?
The term qui tam comes from the Latin phrase meaning “he who sues for himself as well as the king.”
In practice, this is a shorthand term used to stand for the right of citizens to sue on behalf of the federal and many state governments. If the whistleblower’s case results in a collection by the government, that person is entitled to a portion of the amount recovered by the government.
The qui tam provisions of the federal False Claims Act first went into effect during the Civil War when the war effort attracted swindlers to sell faulty supplies to the Union Army. To create incentives for reporting this kind of fraud, the government granted private citizens the right to bring claims on behalf of the government and earn a portion of the recovery in compensation. A qui tam suit may work to enforce the law and recover from violators. However, to do so, someone must bring the case to court, rather than only provide information to the government. This means that whistleblowers cannot rely on the government alone to take the lead.
What we call qui tam suits are filed under the Federal False Claims Act in which whistleblowers bring a case of fraud committed against the government to court.
Expanding Support for Whistleblowers
Congress and the Justice department should support the use of qui tam cases to fight corruption at the local level, since such cases have been held constitutional. When federal government funds are used fraudulently by cities and states such cases can be pursued, but are difficult. As always individuals who report wrongdoing need strong representation to learn their rights prior to acting.
“Figuring out how to report misconduct is difficult and becoming a whistleblower can be extremely stressful,” says DC Qui Tam Attorney Tony Munter. “We need stronger laws and more protections for the people who report wrongdoing and whistleblowers need to learn their rights.”
Although Congress may or may not invoke new qui tam statutes, citizens can still file whistleblower claims to help curb fraud committed against the government. Doing so can help prevent fraudulent activity.