Challenges Confronting Whistleblowing and the International Civil Servant

Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterArticles
767247ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X18767247Review of Public Personnel AdministrationMoloney et al.
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2019, Vol. 39(4) 611 –634
Challenges Confronting
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
Whistleblowing and the
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X18767247
International Civil Servant
Kim Moloney1 , James S. Bowman2,
and Jonathan P. West3
More than 800 international governmental organizations employ thousands of civil
servants. Whistleblowers in them confront problems that are both common and
uncommon compared with their nation-state counterparts. Drawing upon the
relevant literature, as well as stakeholder interview data, a research framework is
developed identifying whistle-blower challenges. These dilemmas focus on loyalty,
impartiality, and immunity, as well as the desire to hold organizations accountable in
a governance system lacking in sufficient checks and balances. In addition, significant
hurdles confronting whistleblowers include definitions and policies, retaliation and
restitution concerns, visa and short-contract constraints, and a resource gap along
with judicial composition issues. Future research is needed because international
public servants play a significant role in ensuring a transparent and accountable global
whistle-blower, international organizations, loyalty, immunity
Blowing the whistle is a perilous activity. This is true for those residing in a demo-
cratic state with whistleblowing laws, protections, and an independent judiciary.
However, it is particularly treacherous for an international civil service that is unusually
1Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
2Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA
3University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kim Moloney, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs,
Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia 6151, Australia.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 39(4)
vulnerable to issues of loyalty, immunity, job security, reputational concerns, and other
sociopsychological factors. In a global system created to encourage peace, security
and justice, whistleblowers are largely unprotected. The purpose of this article is to
present and discuss a descriptive framework for research on international civil service
After discussing the background and methodology, the framework is presented in
two sections. The first focuses on how structural and cultural variables such as loyalty,
impartiality, and immunity alter the whistleblower’s perception of justice. The second
section identifies whistleblower hurdles including retaliation and restitution, visas and
short-term contracts, the resource gap between the employee and the organization, and
judicial limitations. The final section discusses conclusions on the nature of the inter-
national civil service corps, whistleblowing dilemmas, and implications for gover-
nance and accountability.
Background, Literature, Descriptive Framework
States operate within a governance arena anchored by more than 800 international
governmental organizations (Union of International Associations, 2013). Member-
states authorize these institutions to address transnational problems and they work
with transnational civil servants to achieve common perspectives. Yet the global gov-
ernance arena has no single executive, legislative, or judicial branch; no separation of
powers; and no uniform laws upon which an employee might rely (Phua Chao Rong,
2015). There are neither unified internal nor external whistleblower appeal mecha-
nisms nor commonly accepted whistleblower definitions. Grievances seldom see the
light of day. Justice is often lacking or, at best, ephemeral (Walden & Edwards, 2014).
Scholarly attention to the international civil service (e.g., Gould & Kelman, 1970;
Reymond & Mailick, 1986; Udom, 2003) has insufficiently highlighted personnel man-
agement concerns (Moloney, 2018), most notably whistleblowing. Typical studies
focus on the nation-state or a subset of Western countries. With rare exceptions (Brown,
Meyer, Wheeler, & Zuckerman, 2014; Djokic, 2011; Grigorescu, 2013; Walden &
Edwards, 2014), international organization (IO) whistleblowers have received little
attention. Few surveys of international civil servants are public record: Most IOs do not
release internal polls, and access to employees is more difficult for researchers than
access to national-level civil servants. This is particularly true when the issue is whistle-
blowing. This study sits in a scholarly “no man’s land,” as information is often limited
to nongovernmental organization analyses or official IO reports.
This lack of attention is not unexpected: Not only does public administration schol-
arship usually focus on the administrative state, but it is also built on certain structural
assumptions such as a democratic polity, checks and balances, legitimate laws and
regulations, and defined employee rights. However, as noted, IOs are not coherently
organized into an executive branch. There are no global democratic and representative
parliamentary structures.1 Semi-independent international administrative tribunals
adjudicate civil servant rules, and decisions within one tribunal do not serve as

Moloney et al.
precedents for other tribunals. When individual international courts do issue decisions,
enforcement mechanisms are often absent.
Existing sovereign-level whistleblowing scholarship includes the role of impartial-
ity, the importance of concept clarity (Lewis, Brown, & Moberly, 2014; Vandekerckhove,
Brown, & Tsahuridu, 2014), and how whistleblowing policies affect outcomes (Olsen,
2014; Peffer et al., 2015). Scholars have discussed how anti-reprisal rules may dis-
courage retaliation (Miceli & Near, 2013; Miceli, Near, & Dworkin, 2008; Near &
Miceli, 2008; Smith, 2014) and how judicial mechanisms influence employee protec-
tion (Kohn, 2011). Extant literature also shows how underresourced individuals may
be required to defend their claim—a process which may take years (Brown et al.,
2014). Academicians have questioned whether public servants should be the only
“employee” category to receive protections or if contractors, consumers, or even pris-
oners should be protected (Brown et al., 2014; De Maria, 2006; Latimer & Brown,
2008; Lavena, 2016). This analysis also reflects scholarship anchored in questions of
what is (or is not) “reasoned action” (the micro-level legal, macro-level social, and
meso-level organizational beliefs about what is an appropriate response) to whistle-
blowing incidents (Bjørkelo & Bye, 2014; Fishbein & Ajzen, 2010).
By combining existing literature with stakeholder interview data, we created a rep-
licable research framework for international civil servant whistleblower studies:
•• Cultural and structural constraints facing whistleblowers (loyalty, impartiality,
immunity, justice).
•• Hurdles facing whistleblowers (policy clarity, training, retaliation and restitu-
tion, visas and short-term contracts, a “resource gap” along with judicial
At the micro level, individuals weigh the perceived “benefit-to-cost differential” to
blow the whistle: job loss, visa-related risks, and/or potential restitution. The meso
level is the organizational environment influencing disclosure: whistleblower policies
(policy transparency, training), organizational culture (loyalty, impartiality, immunity,
retaliation, the arms gap, and judicial limitations). The macro level encompasses soci-
etal norms, laws, ethics, and values influencing whether to report wrongdoing
(Bowman & West, 2015). For international civil servants, this includes immunities, pro-
cedural fairness perceptions, and tribunal independence and access. In short, and for the
reasons noted, this study is important because it demonstrates the vulnerability of inter-
national civil servant whistleblowers, a susceptibility greater than that confronting a
domestic whistleblower. This analysis is also new as it extends prior sovereign-level
whistleblower studies by providing a comprehensive conceptual framework for under-
standing the phenomenon of international civil servant whistleblowing.
Methodological Approach
This exploratory study complemented its review of the state-level whistleblowing litera-
ture with twenty-seven 30- to 90-min elite, semi-structured interviews of 29 individuals.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 39(4)
Such interviews are particularly useful in encouraging interviewee story-telling (Johnson,
2010). Using “improvisational probes, and responsive follow-up questions” (Luton,
2010, p. 23), prompted respondents to share institution-specific insights that may have
been difficult to obtain without semi-structured interviews.
A 19-item interview guide2 included core questions about loyalty, legal protections,
retaliation, and due process followed a modified primary and secondary question
approach (Luton, 2010) whereby initial items were topic-specific, open-ended ques-
tions accompanied by secondary questions about specific themes. Using best practice,
this protocol allowed reflection on agency-specific structures, whistleblowing proce-
dures, and public cases (Luton, 2010). This is important because no two IOs have...

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