Will Whistleblowers Thrive (or Just Survive) Under New Defense Secretary Carter?

Fareed Zakaria raises a timely point about the Pentagon in today’s Washington Post.

I don’t agree with everything Mr. Zakaria says.  For example, I don’t care to debate the fiscal costs and benefits of certain pension plans, or how much a single helicopter in the presidential fleet should cost to build.   On the other hand, Zakaria’s larger point—that the Pentagon is a big bureaucracy in need of some serious audits—seems hard to dispute.

This is all timely because the Pentagon is about to get a new boss.

His name is Ashton Carter, and he’s been around a while. He’s the acting number 2, and he has one of those resumes I guess you are supposed to have prior to taking on the big brass. Here’s a bio from NBC.

Notably, Mr. Carter was at some point head of procurement, which is where the big money is.  So is it unreasonable of me to want some questions asked of Mr. Carter when he is facing Senate Confirmation? I’ll leave the questions about whether or not we should be committing troops to Afghanistan or Iraq to other people who know the geo-political issues.  But I want to know that the person who is about to start calling the shots at the Pentagon isn’t responsible for all the fiscal waste Zakaria points out.

I want to know something else, too.

Will he support investigations based upon legitimate whistleblower reports under the False Claims Act no matter where they go? That’s my question.

And I have a follow-up: will he protect whistleblowers?

Look, I’m not saying other Defense Secretaries did anything wrong in this area, I’ll go the full caveat here and say that yes, the investigators and government employees I’ve met who have been presented with serious allegations of Defense contractor fraud have treated them seriously and investigated seriously.

But I do want the new Secretary of Defense to go on the record.

The False Claims Act was originally created to fight defense contracting fraud.  It has been used successfully in this area but for a whole host of reasons it has been more successful in fighting Medicare Fraud of late than Defense Contracting fraud. Or at least there have been bigger cases and more cases handled successfully in the area of health care than in the area of Defense Contracting. I’m not sure that anyone believes that Defense Contracting is necessarily less prone to fraud than health care, but technical differences in contracting structure and who pays for what do sometimes make some things about bringing a defense case more complex.

The point is this, though. We know there is some fraud at the Pentagon’s expense, and we know the best law to fight it is the Federal False Claims Act.

If the new Defense Secretary maybe even commits more resources to helping investigate whistleblower complaints and protecting whistleblowers, he would (in my view) be helping save the Pentagon a lot of money.

In addition, he would send a powerful message.  That message is that there is nothing patriotic about ripping off our armed forces.