Concern regarding “waste, fraud and abuse” in government spending is everywhere these days, it seems. Even in 2017, it is a solidly bi-partisan concern. A quick internet search reveals that think tanks from the progressive Center for American Progress to the libertarian Cato Institute have published on the topic, and politicians as ideologically diverse as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) host pages on the official House of Representatives domain, house.gov, addressing wasteful or fraudulent government spending.
It may be more accurate to call the issue “non-partisan” rather than “bi-partisan” – relatively apolitical groups like AARP have weighed in, as has nearly every federal executive agency, including the Office of Personal Management, the Government Accountability Office, and the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees Medicare and Medicaid – more about those two programs in a future post).
Even the Pentagon, long the butt of many anecdotes about $30,000 toilet seats and the like, apocryphal or not, maintains a suite of online resources dedicated to informing and empowering the public regarding safeguards against waste fraud and abuse. In fact, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Defense provides definitions, drawn from several sources, that defense what each of these terms – waste, fraud, and abuse – is understood to mean:
- Waste- involves the taxpayers not receiving reasonable value for money in connection with any government funded activities due to an inappropriate act or omission by actors with control over or access to government resources (e.g. executive, judicial, or legislative branch employees, grantees, or other recipients).
- Fraud – A type of illegal act involving the obtaining of something of value through willful misrepresentation.
- Abuse – involves behavior that is deficient or improper when compared with behavior that a prudent person would consider reasonable and necessary business practice given the facts and circumstances. Abuse also includes misuse of authority or position for personal financial interests or those of an immediate or close family member or business associate.
(All italic text excerpted from http://www.dodig.mil/resources/fraud/fraud_defined.html)
Many of the government resources cited above, both the political and administrative agency webpages, provide resources for citizens to report waste, fraud, or abuse. However, some of these resources allow a concerned member of the public, or a government worker who witnesses waste, fraud or abuse, only the option of filling out a simple online form, sending a message to the same government agency whose behavior concerns them in the first place, and hope that someday somebody somewhere in government responds, looks into it and fixes the problem.
What most people, including many attorneys, don’t know or don’t understand fully is that all members of the public, whether simply concerned citizens or potential government whistleblowers, may have rights and legal options to fight waste, fraud and abuse that allow them to take initiate and even court action without relying entirely on government bureaucrats and government contractors to police themselves. In fact, the federal government and many states, including Maryland and Virginia, have laws that allow such people to work with private attorneys to report waste, fraud, or abuse and even to file lawsuits under some circumstances to force the government to act.
Best of all (and maybe why this is not more common knowledge), many of the laws at issue allow concerned members of the public who identify governmental waste, fraud, or abuse to, in the right cases, personally receive a portion of the money they save taxpayers and to require the persons responsible, not the concerned citizens, to pay the lawyers involved.
This is a complicated, fast changing, and in some ways novel area of law. In the right cases, the right lawyers can help you bring your charges of waste, fraud or abuse and see real results without requiring you to pay the types of onerous up front hourly legal fees that can sometimes discourage eye-witnesses to clear wrongs take action to do the right thing.
Part 2 of this series will examine the laws, in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, and in the United States Code, that allow ordinary people to sue, and win, to fight fraud, waste and abuse in government spending.
Silverman | Thompson | Slutkin | White LLC has attorneys with decades of experience in all areas of law potentially implicated in waste, fraud or abuse in government or government contractor spending, from white-collar prosecution to bank fraud, theft, conspiracy and every kind of business litigation. All initial consultations are completely free and 100% confidential – whether you’re a private citizen, a government contractor or sub-contractor or even a federal, state, or local employee, you can contact Andrew C. White, firstname.lastname@example.org, Bill Sinclair, email@example.com, or Pierce Murphy, firstname.lastname@example.org at (410) 385-2225 to find out what legal rights you may have to take action to fight fraud, waste and abuse and thus to save money for honest taxpayers across the country.