After Decade Long Campaign, Federal Whistleblower Bill Sent to President’s Desk
After a decade long campaign to restore federal whistleblower protections, the Make It Safe Coalition applauds yesterday’s Senate passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, S. 743 (WPEA), by unanimous consent. The House of Representatives approved this measure in September, also by unanimous consent. Congress’ sweeping endorsement of S. 743 demonstrates the strong bipartisan support for this government accountability legislation to expand protections for federal employees who disclose wrongdoing and protect the public trust. Longtime whistleblower champion and retiring Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) was joined by his cosponsors Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in advocating for passage of this crucially needed reform legislation. A full list of Senate cosponsors can be viewed here. We cannot thank these champions and their staff enough for their marathon commitment to the WPEA.
Whistleblower advocates from across the ideological spectrum celebrated this government accountability and taxpayer protection measure:
"AFGE is proud to join a bipartisan group of lawmakers and a coalition of worker, good government, and civic advocates in applauding passage of S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act by the Senate. For far too long managers in the federal workplace have faced little or no accountability when they retaliate against federal workers who blow the whistle on fraud, waste and wrongdoing on the job," said Beth Moten, Legislative Director for American Federation of Government Employees. "The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act marks the beginning of a new day of free speech and due process rights for federal workers such as Transportation Security Officers who protect our nation’s airports, food safety inspectors, government scientists, and others when they speak up on behalf of the public."
"After a 13 year roller coaster campaign, Congress unanimously has given whistleblowers who defend the public a fighting chance to defend themselves. This is a major victory for taxpayers and public servants, but a major defeat for special interests and bureaucrats. Free speech rights for government employees never have been stronger,” said Tom Devine, Legal Director for the Government Accountability Project. “It would be dishonest to say our work is done, however, or to deny that government whistleblower rights are still second class compared to those in the private sector. House Republicans blocked two cornerstones of the legislation: jury trials to enforce newly-enacted protections, and extension of free speech rights to national security workers making disclosures within agency channels."
"A transpartisan impulse expressed through bipartisan consensus. Good to see the U.S. House and Senate finally do something right for the American people," said Michael Ostrolenk, National Director of the Liberty Coalition. "The passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act is an important first step in protecting citizens against federal waste, fraud and abuse of power."
"Congress has just made a major bipartisan stride to stand behind conscientious federal employees who stand up for taxpayers," said National Taxpayers Union Executive Vice President Pete Sepp."Whistleblowers are true trailblazers on the path to fiscal responsibility in Washington, and passage of S. 743 is a hopeful sign that more progress and more protections lie straight ahead."
National President Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union commented: "This is a vital piece of legislation that expands protections for federal employees who disclose fraud, waste, abuse or illegal activity on behalf of taxpayers and in the best interests of our nation. Notably, it includes specific protection for the scientists who work for our nation, are committed to valid research and who should not be swayed or penalized for their work. NTEU is very pleased to see its passage before the end of this current session of Congress."
"This opening salvo to the lame duck shows that Congress can put aside partisan posturing and deliver more government accountability to the American public. These hard-fought reforms will substantially improve the status quo for federal whistleblowers and taxpayers," said Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy for Project On Government Oversight. "It has been a long time coming, but the federal workers now will have a better chance at real justice when they suffer from retaliation for exposing waste, corruption, and abuse. These courageous workers deserve no less for their service to us and our country."
"Reforms such as these create a vehicle for workers to safely call out potential hazards in the workplace without retaliation from the employer,” said Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “By giving federal workers more opportunity and resources to identify hazardous workplace situations, the government will become more efficient."
"Whistleblowers are critical in making the government more efficient and accountable. This legislation finally gives whistleblowers the respect and protection they deserve," said David Williams, President of Taxpayers Protection Alliance. "Congress has shown the American people that they are willing to work together and put partisan differences aside to do the right thing by passing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act."
"We hope that this law will begin a process to change the culture of federal agencies when it comes to whistleblowers," said Celia Wexler, Senior Washington Representative, Union of Concerned Scientists Center for Science and Democracy. "People who protect the public from unsafe drugs, tainted food, defective products, and environmental hazards should not fear for their jobs when they speak up for safety and scientific integrity."
The WPEA includes critically important upgrades to the broken system for federal whistleblowing to better serve taxpayers. Though it does not include every reform that we have sought and will continue to seek, the bill will restore and modernize government whistleblower rights by ensuring that legitimate disclosures of wrongdoing will be protected, increasing government accountability to taxpayers, and saving billions of taxpayer dollars by helping expose fraud, waste and abuse. Overall, the WPEA’s provisions will restore free speech rights closed through arbitrary loopholes and create new protections for federal scientists and Transportation Security Administration officers. The bill also will strengthen due process rights, such as a two-year experiment in normal access to appeals courts (effectively breaking the Federal Circuit’s monopoly on appellate review); provide compensatory damages; create whistleblower ombudsmen at Inspectors General offices; and strengthen authority by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to help whistleblowers through disciplinary actions against those who retaliate, and to file briefs in court supportive of whistleblower rights.
The Senate cosponsors and their dedicated staff worked closely with their House colleagues, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), retiring Representative Todd Platts (R-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Steve Pearce (R-NM), and their committed staff, to reach a bipartisan compromise that could pass this usually contentious Congress. After a hard-fought campaign, Congress has finally enacted this important reform.
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower proteciton and advocacy organization.