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“Constitutionally repugnant” government secrets: non-disclosures and confidential settlements

When it was discovered that many of Donald Trump’s top advisers were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), forcing them to keep quiet about what happens in the White House, an outcry ensued. As a Washington Post editor wrote, these agreements are “not just oppressive, but constitutionally repugnant.”

But it’s not just the federal government trying to keep employees mouths sewed shut, either through “confidential agreements” or “non-disclosure contracts,” according to a column by Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene that was released on on April 5.

Following is a summary of the piece, with sections drawn directly from the Governing column. It’s been 24 years since 1984 as Orwell predicted it. But this kind of thing sounds like it was torn out of the pages of his book.

Montana, for example, has had a reported escalation of confidential settements between employees and the state, according to the Governing article, which also related that, “in Philadelphia, reports of sexual harassment — and a subsequent settlement for one employee –led to calls for Sheriff Jewell Williams to resign and for the city to reconsider how NDAs and settlements are applied in cases of sexual harassment.”

The issue is particularly problematic for potential whistleblowers.

“At the federal level,” the column stated, “a whistleblower’s ability to report wrongdoing is strongly protected, but state laws tend to be weaker, vary dramatically and may not be known to employees, says Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, an organization dedicated to protecting whistleblowers.

“He worries that any kind of agreement that curtails public employees’ free speech could deter them from flagging problems.

“He worries that ‘There are administrative and legal remedies that would allow employees to break nondisclosure agreements or speak out or blow the whistle despite a confidential settlement,’ he says. ‘But the mere existence of the agreement is highly chilling.’”

Take a look at the full article. This is important stuff.


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