The National Whistleblowers Center laid off a "significant" number of staff yesterday in its Washington-based office, Executive Director Stephen Kohn confirmed today. He would not say how many employees were fired or from what positions, but said that the layoffs were due to lack of funds.
Kohn said that while they had arranged for pro bono lawyers or legal fellows supported by law schools to cover any cases the center is currently supporting, the layoffs and financial situation could affect their ability to take on new matters moving forward. He declined to say how many cases the center is supporting now.
Founded in 1988, the center has supported whistleblowers across the country and advocated for stronger whistleblower protection laws. The center also supports the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund, which makes attorney referrals and provides direct legal representation.
According to Kohn, who serves pro bono as executive director, the center didn't secure renewal of a grant from the Open Society Institute, which he said had been the center's largest source of funding. Kohn declined to say how much they had received in the past, but an institute spokeswoman, Maria Archuleta, said today that the center had most recently received a two-year grant for $200,000 that ended December 31. Archuleta confirmed that the grant was not renewed, but no one was available who could offer more information on that decision.
"It's very unfortunate we lost that major grant," Kohn said. "We had to make hard choices."
At one time, the center's website listed at least a half-dozen other staff members. The website no longer publicly lists its staff.
Despite the layoffs, Kohn said that the center is open and operational. He said he would be focusing on finding new funding sources and hoped that after the election, potential donors would be more willing to contribute funds to a broader array of organizations.
Kohn is also a name partner at Washington's Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, which handles whistleblower cases. The firm is not officially affiliated with the center, but fellow firm name partners Michael Kohn and David Colapinto are also involved in the center's leadership, with Kohn serving as president and Colapinto as general counsel. Neither could be reached for comment. All three are also listed as attorney-trustees for the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund, according to the center's website.