Washington, D.C. October 10, 2023. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) underutilizes whistleblower awards. According to information gathered from FWS documents obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Whistleblower Network News (WNN), the agency’s whistleblower award program, established by the Lacey Act, remains severely underutilized. FWS also continues to fail to promote awards, missing the opportunity to incentivize others to come forward.
Exclusive reporting by WNN reveals that from November 2019 through August 2022, FWS paid out only twenty-one whistleblower awards averaging less than $9,000. The awarded whistleblowers played critical roles in exposing a wide range of wildlife crimes, from the poaching of endangered gray wolves to international turtle trafficking schemes.
According to whistleblower advocates, the small number of awards, the token amounts, and the fact that FWS never publicized them showcases that the agency continues to not prioritize whistleblower awards as a powerful enforcement tool. In 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a scathing report calling on FWS to better leverage whistleblower awards.
“These documents show that Fish and Wildlife continues to radically underutilize whistleblower awards,” says whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn, a leading expert on whistleblower law. “The program has tremendous potential and could revolutionize the enforcement of wildlife crime. Fish and Wildlife needs to follow the lead of the SEC and other agencies and implement a robust whistleblower award program.”
WNN’s exclusive reporting on the FWS’s Whistleblower Program covers its overall use of whistleblower awards as well as the details of specific cases aided by whistleblowers. Read the complete series of articles at Whistleblower Network News.