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Defense Department looks to publicize overlooked whistleblower hotline
Question of the Day
Maybe Edward Snowden should have called Patrick Gookin.
“We don’t care who you are, we don’t care what your motivation is,” Mr. Gookin told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “You could be calling for all the wrong reasons — you’re a jilted lover — but as long as what you’re calling about is true, that’s all we care about.”
The hotline, run by the DoD Inspector General, provides whistleblowers with an opportunity to anonymously provide tips to the Pentagon’s independent internal watchdog.
Several high-profile cases have been prompted by tips received through the hotline, Mr. Gookin said, including mixed up graves at Arlington National Cemetery, sexual assault cases, the mishandling of remains by Dover Air Force Base and the recent bribery case against several high-ranking Naval officers.
But the hotline and inspector general’s office can sometimes keep a low profile.
“We don’t tell people who we’re chasing,” Mr. Gookin said. “We tell people who we’ve caught.”
Whistleblowers can send information through several avenues, including mail, fax and telephone. The hotline no longer accepts tips through e-mail thanks to high amounts of spam, but does have an online form to fill out instead.
Mr. Gookin, a former active-duty Marine, has worked in the Pentagon for years and will also serve as the department’s first official hotline director. He is also the newest whistleblower ombudsman who can advise informants of their rights and courses of action to take.
Since 2009, use of the hotline has grown by almost 125 percent, Mr. Gookin said, as the IG endeavors to make sure people know it exists. This year, the IG estimates it has received more than 31,000 tips.
Not everything is investigated, though. Many tips are things better served by the hotlines of other federal departments. Or they could be things the IG generally doesn’t handle, like a person complaining they received their paycheck late. Still, the IG office is happy to try to connect that person to someone who can actually help them, Mr. Gookin said.
The hotline itself isn’t responsible for investigating anything, but instead hands issues off to teams of IG investigators. That handoff has become a lot more efficient too, down from 22 days a year ago. Now it’s just three days between when a complaint is received and when investigators start looking into it.
The hotline office isn’t just reacting to tips but trying to get out in front of problems too.
Mr. Gookin quoted words of wisdom from a former inspector general: “Any damned fool can find fraud, waste and abuse. Preventing it is what takes brains.”
As for the Pentagon hotline and IG itself, he said, “We’re not just sitting here waiting for phones to ring. We’re out there turning over every leaf and stone.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Phillip Swarts is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times, covering fiscal waste, fraud and political ethics. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and previously worked as an investigative reporter for the Washington Guardian. Phillip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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