The False Claims Act (FCA) is America’s first whistleblower law and one of the strongest whistleblower laws in the United States.
It was originally signed into law in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. In the midst of wartime, it had become clear that many suppliers were providing substandard goods and services to the troops. In an effort to counter this, the FCA was passed to target fraud in government contracting and against the government.
Since its original signing, the False Claims Act has seen several revisions and become increasingly powerful, but one aspect has remained since its conception: the qui tam, or whistleblower, provision. This important provision allows any individual or non-governmental organization to file a lawsuit, in U.S. District Courts, on behalf of the United States government.
Under this provision, whistleblowers can be rewarded for confidentially disclosing fraud that results in a financial loss to the federal government. Provided that their original information results in a successful prosecution, whistleblowers are awarded a mandatory reward of between 15% to 30% of the collected proceeds. These rewards are often substantial, since under the False Claims Act, the criminal is liable for a civil penalty as well as treble damages.
It is important to note that the FCA was written to be expansive. As a result, it is (1) applicable to conduct outside the U.S. – so long as there is federal spending, procurement or contracting, (2) suitable for building criminal cases as well as civil, and (3) possible for anyone to serve as a whistleblower, including non U.S. citizens and NGOs.