‘Lincoln’s Law’ slows Washington’s gravy train

~by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Iowans working six ways to Sunday to make ends meet have 18 trillion reasons to resent Washington’s appetite for overspending. The soaring $18 trillion national debt reflects disregard for the taxpaying public, especially younger generations who will be saddled with a crushing tax burden to pay for unbridled Big Government.

But what really gets under the American taxpayer’s skin is wasteful spending and taxes lost to fraud. There’s no question about it. When the size and scope of the government grow, so do opportunities for improper payments, duplicative programs, fraud and mismanagement.

President Abraham Lincoln realized that when the federal spigot is opened for business, greed and corruption trumped patriotism when Civil War-era defense contractors siphoned off war dollars for shoddy goods and services sold to the Union Army. That’s when our 16th president signed into law an anti-fraud tool to help root out unpatriotic war profiteers. The False Claims Act, also known as Lincoln’s Law, allowed a private citizen to file a claim on behalf of the government for fraud.

Now it doesn’t matter if it’s the 19th century or the 21st, coming forward with information of alleged fraud isn’t easy. It means a whistleblower is going out on a limb, putting one’s livelihood and career on the line. That’s why Lincoln’s Law included “qui tam” provisions that offered financial incentives to provide that a citizen may share in a portion of the recovery. Bilking the government under any circumstance is morally corrupt, particularly when defense dollars assigned to U.S. Armed Forces and national security interests are squandered.

However, during World War II, the “qui tam” provisions were watered down significantly, abruptly reducing the incentives for private citizens to step forward. For four decades, Lincoln’s Law collected dust on the prosecutorial shelf and arguably wrongdoers collected untold billions of tax dollars.

Throughout my service in the United States Senate, I’ve conducted aggressive oversight of federal spending. From housing, transportation, welfare, health care, agriculture and defense, the revenue stream that runs through the federal bureaucracy has, unfortunately, long been considered a gravy train for unscrupulous wrongdoers. It struck me during my oversight of the Pentagon’s books. The U.S. Treasury would benefit from a dose of Honest Abe. So, I worked on Capitol Hill to secure bipartisan updates to the “qui tam” whistleblower provisions that increased civil penalties and the citizen’s share of recovered tax dollars lost to fraud.

Since my 1986 amendments were adopted to the False Claims Act, the U.S. Treasury has recovered $44 billion and counting. The Department of Justice says it is the nation’s most effective anti-fraud weapon in its arsenal, particularly considering its widespread impact to suppress fraud and deter wrongdoers from risking criminal sentences, financial settlements and civil penalties in the first place.

Like Lincoln’s Law, my whistleblower updates targeted fraud to protect the integrity of the nation’s defense and military spending. Since then, the False Claims Act has cast a much wider net, capturing widespread fraud in the nation’s health care, banking and financial services sectors. And I’ve worked to build and strengthen even more legislative and prosecutorial tools to beef up the government’s ability to gut fraud throughout the bureaucracy, including:

  • Whistleblower protections that prevent employers from muzzling employees with “non-disclosure agreements” that seek to gag workers from reporting wrongdoing;
  • Stronger protections for programs in the IRS and SEC to encourage workers to report high-dollar tax evasion and wrongdoing in the banking and financial sectors; and,
  • Passage of the 2009 Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act that targets mortgage and securities fraud.

Whistleblowers shouldn’t be wronged for trying to make things right. That’s why I launched the Whistleblower Protection Caucus in the U.S. Senate. We can pass legislation until the cows come home, but if we don’t ride herd and scrutinize the enforcement and execution of these laws, rustlers will continue to feed at the public trough.

Taxpayers are fed up with their hard-earned tax dollars paying for a $43 million natural gas station in Afghanistan, for example. Or when mismanaged bureaucracies send farm payments to deceased farmers, deny services and benefits to veterans or put federal workers on extended paid administrative leave for months on end.  The American people deserve better. That’s why I’ll continue championing the work of whistleblowers who help put a nail in the coffin of bureaucratic misconduct and make wrongdoers pay for pilfering the federal government’s coffers.

Cronyism, corruption and incompetence deepen mistrust and widen the credibility gap between the American people and the federal government. That’s why I work so hard to derail Washington’s gravy train. Let’s save the gravy for the Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potatoes.

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