Sunday Read: Intern Experience (Hawaii)
This summary of an NWC intern’s experience learning about whistleblower protections in Hawaii was sent as part of NWC’s “Sunday Read” series that aims to educate supporters about whistleblower stories and whistleblower legislative or policy initiatives and current events. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.
National Whistleblower Center is proud to work with a number of incredibly talented interns. These undergraduate and law school students work on various projects in our program and have researched and written for several Sunday Read’s in this series.
This week we highlighted the incredible experience of one of our ambitious and curious interns who worked remotely while visiting Hawaii this summer. During his time there, NWC intern Raffi Kanayan researched the resources available to whistleblowers in Hawaii and reports back with this summary:
I had the pleasure to travel to Hawaii for two weeks this summer. One day our family got up early to snorkel at the beautiful coral reefs at Hanauma Bay, which in Hawaiian means “curved bay.” Before tourists can go swimming, they are educated about the bay’s history and advised on how to protect it, including switching out their sunscreen for coral reef-friendly sunscreen. Hawaiians’ enormous respect for nature preserved the bay and is also manifested in the whistleblower laws Hawaiians have used to report environmental damage. To harness my stay in Hawaii, I conducted research on whistleblower attorneys, NGOs, and institutions in Hawaii, and tried to expand the National Whistleblower Center’s (NWC) network by contacting them.
By passing a state False Claims Act (FCA), the Hawaii County False Claims Act (HCFA), the Hawaii Unfair and Deceptive Practices Act (HUDPA), and a Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) which has since been strengthened with amendments, Hawaii exhibits strong support for whistleblowers. Hawaii’s unique environment also makes Hawaii a state in dire need of strengthened environmental whistleblower laws, this strengthening of laws is also a priority for NWC.
The environment has been a recent source of whistleblowing in Hawaii. In October 2021, a Navy whistleblower exposed that the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility is leaking into the freshwater aquifer under Oahu. The fuel storage facility was built in 1943 to replace above-ground storage tanks that were vulnerable to attack by air and to service the ships and aircraft in Pearl Harbor. This is not the first time that leaks occurred from the facility. In January 2014, the EPA and the Hawaii Department of Health directed the Navy to take measures to prevent future leaks after they found that 27,000 gallons of fuel had leaked. The whistleblower exposed a more recent leak that had initially been caused by operator error, with 20,000 U.S. gallons of fuel leaking into a drain line. Instead of correcting this immediately, the Navy allowed the fuel to remain there for 6 months, until a cart crashed into the drain, causing the leaked fuel to enter the Navy water system. Had the Navy properly investigated the original leak, severe damage would have been averted and the Navy would not have to evacuate residents from the affected military housing on December 2, 2021. This crisis also impacted Honolulu as its Board of Water Supply (BWS) stopped pumping water from the Halawa Shaft and two other wells that they feared were contaminated. These shutdowns during the winter did not lead to immediate water shortage, but as water usage rose, BWS issued a request for Oahu water users to voluntarily reduce water consumption by 10% on March 10, 2022.
Hawaii’s Senators and Representatives have the power to help designating July 30th as a Federal Day of Observance called National Whistleblower Day. Senator Schatz and Senator Hirono, could help to secure support for continuing to improve the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AML) and rewards for wildlife whistleblowers, and Representative Kahele and Representative Case could take action to end wildlife trafficking and promote wildlife conservation by supporting protections for wildlife whistleblowers. If these legislators were to take as strong an interest in whistleblowers as the people of Hawaii have, we could see real change nation wide.
As an intern at NWC, I can see how NWC’s impact would educating and raising awareness about whistleblowing could help Hawaiians. And, from my research and experiences in Hawaii, I can tell that the people of that state already have a respect for whistleblowers and the role they play in safeguarding tax dollars and preventing fraud.
If you live in Hawaii and want to see your state celebrate National Whistleblower Day, please take action and send your legislators a note.
Interns like Raffi bring such wonderful and enthusiasm and insights to our work at NWC, and we commend him for his diligent research while enjoying the beautiful state of Hawaii. Take action today and let your legislators know how important it is to recognize and protect whistleblowers.
NWC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that helps educate the public about whistleblowers around the world. We champion those who have the courage to speak up for what is right — no matter where they might be. Sign up for our mailing list today, donate to support our work, and send this message to friends who want to learn more about NWC or local whistleblower protections.