MONTPELIER -- The state accounts auditor asked lawmakers on Friday to consider passing a law to protect the identities of people who want to report problems in state government.
Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer told a legislative committee that under current state law if someone reports a problem to his office he could be compelled to release the name of that person if asked.
"When I came into office I learned that people who contact my office and want to share information about what they consider to be wrongdoing -- waste, fraud and abuse and so forth -- I cannot protect their identify, which I think has a chilling effect on their calling my office," Hoffer said Friday after he testified in front of the Legislature’s Public Records Legislative Study Committee. "It’s to our benefit for more people to call my office rather than fewer."
The committee was established by the Legislature in 2011 to review Vermont’s Public Records Act and the exemptions to it.
Hoffer, who was first elected in 2012, runs the state office charged with performing audits of state contracts and other functions.
During the committee hearing, Hoffer said people frequently call his office to report problems with state government but he can’t promise them anonymity for their tips. People can make reports anonymously, but when they do it’s impossible for Hoffer or his staff to follow up and ask for additional information.
"Sometimes it’s very useful, and we want to encourage people to (come forward)," Hoffer said.
There is legislation on the books that protects whistle-blowers from retaliation. But in a statement issued before Friday’s hearing, the Vermont State Employees’ Association said it agreed with Hoffer’s request because it would encourage state workers to report problems.
A survey of state workers found a vast majority of them would like to bolster the anti-retaliation law by protecting the identities of people who report problems.