This bill — the Rescuing Animals with Rewards (RAWR) Act of 2019 — would authorize rewards for thwarting wildlife trafficking linked to transnational organized crime. The State Department — which already offers rewards in exchange for information that helps deter transnational organized crime — would now be able to offer cash rewards in exchange for information about wildlife trafficking, such as poaching and illegal trade in wildlife.
What is House Bill H.R. 97?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 97
In-Depth: Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to allow the State Department to offer rewards for information leading to the arrest of conviction of wildlife traffickers around the globe.
In the 115th Congress, Rep. Daniel Donovan (R-NY) introduced this bill to expand the State Department’s ability to offer cash rewards for information that helps combat international wildlife trafficking. Scott Hajost, Managing Director of the Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program at the national Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C., calls cash rewards for whistleblowers a critical part of the enforcement regime against wildlife trafficking:
“At its core, wildlife trafficking is a business. Whistleblowers have been incredibly effective in cracking down on financial and corporate crimes. It is time we apply this methodology to the wildlife sphere... [Rewards for whistleblowers] provide a monetary incentive to report illicit activity. By empowering whistleblowers, we can change the calculus of participating in wildlife crime. If we make reporting crime more lucrative than participating in it, there will be a sea change in how the wildlife crime industry operates… Leveraging whistleblower reward laws is about dismantling the wildlife crime system by holding the most powerful players accountable.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), while in agreement that offering financial rewards to combat illegal wildlife trafficking is effective and merits expansion, disagrees with the position that the State Department should pay and administer such rewards. Instead, the GAO suggested in an April 2018 report that the Departments of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should pay rewards for information on wildlife trafficking. The GAO points out that from FY 2007-2017, the agencies collectively reported paying only 27 rewards at a collective total of $205,500 — which could be significantly improved through better administration, better information communication to the public on financial rewards, and stronger internal review of each agency’s use of financial rewards.
The GAO’s WatchBlog also notes that rewards also have some disadvantages as a law enforcement tactic, as they may elicit false or unproductive leads; affect witness credibility, which may become a challenge at trial because sources were compensated for their information; and consume resources, as a flood of tips motivated by a reward requires effort for follow-up or corroboration.
In the current Congress, this bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). Last Congress, this legislation passed the House by a voice vote with the support of six cosponsors, including one Republican and five Democrats.
Of Note: The State Department currently has a rewards program that uses appropriated funds to offer cash awards to deter transnational organized crime. This rewards program is currently offering a reward of up to $1 million for information that could lead to the dismantling of the Xaysavang Network, a Laos-based international wildlife trafficking syndicate that’s been linked to the slaughter of rhinos and elephants in South Africa and Mozambique to trade their horns and tusks in China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
It should be noted that the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, which was signed into law on January 2013, enables the Secretary of State to offer rewards for information leading to the arrest, conviction, or identification of significant members of transnational criminal organizations who operate primarily outside the U.S. The law also allows for rewards for information that dismantles such organizations or leads to the disruption of their financial mechanisms. Additionally, multiple laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, authorize the FWS and NOAA to pay rewards for information on wildlife trafficking.
There are already two U.S. whistleblower reward laws with international jurisdiction that can be used to combat wildlife crime: the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
The FCA is the federal government’s primary litigation tool against those who defraud the government. It penalizes customs fraud, and has been successful in cracking down on crime in the non-wildlife context. Illicit wildlife products are frequently smuggled through ports – by air, land, and sea – and are able to pass through customs based on falsified documents. Evidence of these falsified documents would provide a strong basis for an FCA case, and would allow the whistleblower reward provision to apply. The FCA is a powerful tool for halting wildlife crime because there’s a clearly delineated evidentiary threshold for litigation, and non-U.S. citizens and NGOs are eligible for whistleblower rewards under the FCA.
The FCPA, which prohibits publicly-traded corporations, both U.S. and international, from paying bribes to foreign officials and mandates financial record-keeping, can also be used to litigate wildlife crime cases that occur outside the U.S. In the wildlife crime context, if an individual has evidence of inaccurate financial record keeping that covers up wildlife trafficking, or papers that show the wiring of funds to pay for illegal wildlife products, there may be grounds for an FCPA case so long as the company involved is under its jurisdiction.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Robert_Ford)
Rescuing Animals With Rewards Act of 2019
To amend the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 to authorize rewards for thwarting wildlife trafficking linked to transnational organized crime, and for other purposes.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
Committee on Foreign Relations
- senate Committees
- The house has not voted
Committee on Foreign AffairsEurope, Eurasia, Energy, and the EnvironmentIntroducedJanuary 3rd, 2019
- house Committees