In the latest vindication of the federal "whistle-blower" law, a settlement of civil claims against a contractor who defrauded the government brought $56 million back to the public treasury. Christopher Urda, a Binghamton, N.Y., auditor who alerted the government it was being fleeced, received $7.5 million because the False Claims Act provides a bounty of up to 25 percent of money the government wins back.
That didn't sit well with Stuart M. Gerson, head of the Justice Department's civil division: "While I fully support the dual purposes of the [act's] provisions -- to encourage the reporting of fraud against the government and to compensate generously those who take the risks in coming forward -- I question whether it is really necessary to divert sums of this nature from the Treasury to [whistle-blowers] in order to achieve those goals."
Yet without such provisions, the government might never have pursued the case. Mr. Urda, an auditor for the Link division of Singer Corp., filed the suit himself, alleging that he had tried in vain to get his new employers at the Pentagon to take a look at how Link was overcharging for training simulators. Without the potential payment from a whistle-blower settlement, Mr. Urda's legal team and Taxpayers Against Fraud might not have been able to sustain the lawsuit until the Justice Department's intervention.
Mr. Urda moved against his former employer after getting a new job at the Defense Department, but some of the best-publicized whistle-blower cases have involved long stays on the unemployment line for the chief protagonists. Clearly, those willing to risk exile from the labor market and, in Mr. Urda's case, to file lawsuits the government itself should have brought, need better protection of their future economic interests as well as some assurance that there will be a way to pay the expenses of pressing forward against wrongdoers.