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“Increased award volume breathes new life into SEC whistleblower program”

Phillips & Cohen partner Sean McKessy, the former chief of the SEC Office of the Whistleblower, provides insights into how the SEC has been able to make a record number of whistleblower awards this year in a Compliance Week article.

Sean McKessy, a partner and whistleblower attorney at the firm Phillips & Cohen and the founding chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower under President Barack Obama, said the whistleblower office under current chief Jane Norberg has successfully streamlined the process of determining which tipsters should receive awards. The office also added “new talent” from outside of government that helped change its culture, he said.

“These changes have allowed the office to crank out these awards at a much quicker pace,” McKessy said.

One key change streamlined the vetting of whistleblowers, according to McKessy. When he led the office, his staff interviewed Division of Enforcement staff to determine the quality of information provided by a particular whistleblower. The cumbersome process admittedly took too long, he said.

Under Norberg, Division of Enforcement staff write a declaration that assesses the value, quality, and timeliness of a whistleblower’s information. Whistleblower staff then use that declaration to make a recommendation on the amount of the award, which has to be approved by the Commission.

“Cutting out the middleman there took some time, but they got it done,” McKessy said. “There were changes that needed to be made, and they’re not as easy to do in government as they are in the private sector.”

Read the entire article, “Increased award volume breathes new life into SEC whistleblower program,” on Compliance Week’s website (subscription required). 

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