For the past 16 years, America has paused each September to reflect on the tragic morning of September 11, 2001. And while we remember the lives lost and are forced to face our worst fears and vulnerabilities, we are also reminded of the many heroes – those who prevented a more horrific attack that day, as well as those who ultimately brought Osama Bin Laden and other conspirators to justice. Certainly, we also learned several lessons from that terrible event, and federal and state government officials have taken a variety of steps to prevent similar occurrences in the future. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority trademarked and launched its “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign – a whistleblower program of sorts that encouraged individuals to report suspicious individuals and activities to law enforcement. And in 2003, the federal government announced its “Ready” public service campaign, to promote preparedness through public involvement. The next year, the federal government went a step further, as FEMA declared September to be National Preparedness Month, designed to encourage Americans to take steps to prepare for terrorist attacks and other emergency situations. President Trump recently reiterated the importance of National Preparedness Month in an August 30 Proclamation.
By 2010, the federal government licensed the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign from New York, and the Department of Homeland Security launched it nationwide. After an influx of federal funds to a wide range of public and private entities, the slogan is now visible on placards and billboards, on buses and subway trains, at sporting events and entertainment venues, and on college and university campuses across the country. Without question, the government has fully embraced whistleblowers’ capacity to prevent tragedies and save lives. But the whistleblowing lessons do not end there.
As terrorist attacks – both foreign and domestic – continue to proliferate, the federal government has further reacted by funding a multitude of services, equipment, and training to a variety of first responders. For instance, the Department of Justice reports that, under the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 1998, the federal government has provided some $430 million to purchase 1.3 million bulletproof vests for state, local, and tribal police officers in more than 13,000 jurisdictions. The federal government has pledged hundreds of millions more to help cities purchase body cameras for police officers – and to assist with costly monthly video storage costs. Similarly, the federal government provides grants to States to purchase equipment, pay for training and other services, and to cover planning and administrative costs for first responders. The Office of Domestic Preparedness reports a staggering 1400% increase in such funding since 9/11. Congress has also passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) – an independent agency of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that is charged with building and maintaining America’s first nationwide public safety broadband network dedicated to communication and collaboration among first responders. Earlier this year, Congress awarded AT&T nearly $7 billion to develop this interoperable communications infrastructure across all 50 states, and the FCC has provided 20 MHz of radio spectrum for the network.
All of these governmental efforts to prepare for and respond to emergency situations involve public-private partnerships in which government agencies contract with private companies. Unfortunately, each of these contracts creates opportunities for companies to defraud those government agencies. Whistleblowers and whistleblower lawyers, armed with laws like the False Claims Act (the “qui tam” law that rewards individuals who sue on the government’s behalf and recover stolen funds) and the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (which rewards whistleblowers who alert the SEC to fraud schemes perpetrated by publicly-traded companies), can play a vital role in combatting fraudsters who would steal from taxpayers, put first-responders at risk, and undermine America’s preparedness at critical times. This Patriot Day, “If You See Something, Say Something,” could not be a more appropriate reminder to us all to do our part to keep America safe.