It shouldn’t be about the bounty

Whistleblowers have bagged US federal authorities a pile of recovered cash this year – and themselves some big reward money.  But Reuben Guttman’s hero is a man who received not a penny of bounty.

Depending on how you count it, the US government recovered more than $6 billion in 2012 as a result of whistleblowers crying foul.  Enticing them to pucker up are laws paying bounties to those who report wrongdoing that cheats the government out of tax dollars, violates federal securities laws, or leads to the wrongful payment of monies that in whole or in part came from the government.

In an age of statistics and superlatives, pundits will debate who should take the title of whistleblower of the year for 2012.

Was it the person whose efforts resulted in the highest recovery ever in the US?  Or, was it those individuals who brought the cases that resulted in blockbuster settlements with global pharmaceutical companies?  Was it the person – whose name remains anonymous – who received the first Dodd-Frank bounty for reporting securities fraud to the Securities and Exchange Commission?  Or, what about that fellow who reported tax fraud and bagged a $100 million bounty from the Internal Revenue Service but was in no position to run out to the mall and blow it because he was a guest of the US Bureau of Prisons?

Radiation leaks

Regardless of who bags the unofficial title this year, I vote to recognize Pat Tucker, a soft-spoken welding inspector who lived and worked in Tennessee.  Mr. Tucker died this year; he was just 63.

Mr. Tucker worked for a contractor producing equipment for US Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities and was in charge of inspecting welds holding joints together.  He understood that errors in his work could lead to radiation leaks.

One day Mr. Tucker arrived at work and noticed that employees were using his inspection stamp to approve welds that had not been inspected.  He reported his concerns to the department and two nuclear weapons contractors were cited for fines totaling about $100,000, the details of which are included in a government statement on October 31, 2003.

Mr. Tucker did not receive a bounty for his efforts.  He did what he did because he thought it was right.  Over the years, Mr. Tucker worked zealously to make sure that the products he inspected met specifications and he was never afraid to share concerns with government investigators.

 Moral compasses

The US bounty system is a hot topic of discussion and mystery, especially in Europe.  It surely encourages individuals to come forward and report fraud and in 2012 it is a system that has shown some success.  But not everyone who blows the whistle is motivated by a bounty.  Some people step forward because it is just the right thing to do.

When it comes time to vote for whistleblower of the year, my vote goes to the countless Pat Tuckers who are hard wired with an unwavering moral compass, and are compelled to step forward because it is the only thing they know to do when confronted with wrongdoing.

Mr. Tucker — we will remember you for your persistence, integrity, and dignity in the face of adversity.