Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight
Industry: Political activism
Key previous position: Has worked with POGO for 27 years
Education: Smith College; Johns Hopkins
Notable fact: Worked with Geraldo Rivera
Danielle Brian is one of the most prominent defenders of the whistle-blower process and congressional oversight, working to fill a vital role left by the decrease in oversight staff since the 1990s and actively root out the “waste, fraud, and abuse” elected officials in both parties have long made a staple of their platforms.
Since the Ukraine scandal came to light this fall, whistle-blowers have been all over the news—to say nothing of the president’s Twitter feed. But the Project on Government Oversight has long advocated for government employees who’ve raised concerns about the treatment of detainees at Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, conditions at Veterans Affairs hospitals, and abuses of the security-clearance process, among other issues. It’s also conducted its own research on everything from development hurdles facing the Air Force’s F-35 program to the business world’s influence on the Interior Department.
Brian said it’s “terrific” to see a national conversation on the importance of whistle-blowers. “We’re concerned at the moment that the concept [of whistle-blower protection is] becoming politicized unfairly and wrongly,” she said, noting that a number of Republicans have been past champions of whistle-blowers. “We’re in the process of figuring out how to best counter that potential damage.”
Brian is nearly a POGO lifer: She interned there in the 1980s before brief stints working on Capitol Hill and for an investigative-journalism program hosted by Geraldo Rivera, but she wanted to become more involved in the political process, which led her to rejoin the group in 1993. Under her leadership, POGO has grown from a two-person operation that specialized in uncovering wasteful defense procurement to a 40-person team working on numerous policy issues and making frequent appearances in print media and congressional hearings.
She said the group has been able to expand its reach after adding the criminal-justice-focused Constitution Project to its ranks in 2017. “We’re facing for the first time in our existence a foundational battle between the branches of government. It has allowed us to weigh in in that world that was beyond where we might have been in previous administrations.”