12 Million Affected, Six Times More than Federal Employees
(Washington, DC) – Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is praising the inclusion of "best practice" whistleblower protection rights for federal government contractors in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA 2013).
This tremendous expansion of whistleblower rights will help to safeguard approximately $1.9 trillion worth of government contracts, grants and reimbursements annually, and protect some 12 million federal contractor whistleblowers when they expose corruption, wrongdoing, waste, fraud, abuse, or threats to the public. By comparison, there are only (approximately) two million federal employees, many of which (national security and intelligence workers) do not enjoy rights under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), signed into law by President Obama late last month.
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, who led a years-long effort for this very action, praised the key lawmakers who made this possible:
Senators Claire McCaskill and Carl Levin have given the taxpayers a trillion-dollar-plus Christmas present of accountability. This law will provide stronger rights to six-times-more taxpayer-financed employees than the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act does for federal workers. Relevant contracts, grants and reimbursements total some $1.9 trillion to firms with nearly 12 million employees. Often, these employees provide essential work, even supervising civil service employees.
As with the recently-enacted Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, however, key Republican gatekeepers weakened the reforms, only permitting permanent rights for defense contractors. Non-defense contractor whistleblower free speech rights are limited to a four-year pilot experiment, coupled with a GAO study whether they should be made permanent. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence again had all protections for intelligence community whistleblowers removed as the price for passage. This intelligence loophole is an inexcusable oxymoron. This action sustains the continued gravy train of fraud, waste and abuse at the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies.
GAP International Program Officer Shelley Walden added:
This law also strengthens free speech rights for police officers stationed in United Nations peacekeeping missions. It fixes a gaping accountability loophole in which U.S. police officers who reported sexual exploitation and abuse, human trafficking and other egregious misconduct in the peacekeeping missions lacked credible mechanisms through which to challenge subsequent retaliation by their employer.
The whistleblower protections of the bill include the following rights and remedies:
- Permanently covers all employees of Defense Department contractors, subcontractors or grant recipients; and covers the same universe for all other non-intelligence community contracts or grants in a four-year pilot, pending a GAO study and recommendations on making the rights permanent.
- Similar to the WPEA protections for federal employees, the NDAA 2013 provisions protect contractors from disclosures of information that the employee reasonably believes are evidence of illegality, gross waste, gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
- Extends protections to whistleblowers harassed or fired by a contractor at the government's direction.
- Provides whistleblowers with a three-year statute of limitations to act on their rights.
- Allows contractor whistleblowers to file retaliation complaints with the relevant Office of Inspector General (OIG), which then must conduct an investigation and make recommendations to the respective agency head.
- If the relevant agency head fails to provide requested relief within 210 days, the whistleblower may go to federal district court for de novo proceedings and have the case decided through a jury trial. The Whistleblower Protection Act legal burdens of proof will determine who wins the lawsuit or prevails in the OIG investigation. Whistleblowers who win are entitled to relief making them "whole," including compensatory damages without caps.
- With such court cases, contractors may not receive government reimbursement of legal fees for the retaliation case, provided the whistleblower receives relief or the contractor is fined.
- Provides "all circuits" access to appeals courts for whistleblowers to challenge adverse administrative or district court rulings.
- Prohibits any cancellation of rights and remedies through job prerequisites or other agreements.
- Mandates that all affected employers must provide all contractor employees with written notice of these new rights and remedies.