The False Claims Act's qui tam provision is a powerful tool for both whistleblowers and the government. It allows private individuals--known as relators in FCA cases--to come to the government with allegations of false claims and information supporting those allegations (read more about the updated False Claims Act in "Perfect Storm"). Once the relator files a complaint, it is kept under seal in federal court, and the government has 60 days to investigate the allegations and decide whether to "intervene" in the case. In reality, however, the government typically takes longer--sometimes eight or nine months, according to Robert Rhoad, a partner at Crowell & Moring who has served as lead defense counsel in numerous FCA cases.
If the government decides to intervene, it basically takes over the case, making the relator's duties minimal. "That's the hope of every qui tam relator and counsel," Rhoad says. If the government declines to intervene, the relator is still free to initiate a private action against the company--although according to Rhoad, the success rate is much lower in these cases.