Senate-House Conference to Determine Inclusion of Protections
(Washington, D.C.) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is praising yesterday's Senate vote including "best practices" whistleblower protection rights for millions of corporate employees in legislation to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The legislation now must be reconciled with a House version that does not include any rights for whistleblowers or other witnesses challenging violations.
"By shielding whistleblowers who challenge violations, the Senate vote put enforcement teeth behind its reforms on paper," declared GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. "Whistleblower rights are the weather vane whether Congress is serious about reform, or just enacting window dressing." Working with a coalition of some 50 citizen organizations, GAP is leading the advocacy campaign to protect witnesses who challenge violations of tougher consumer safety standards.
GAP credited the offices of Senators Mark Pryor (D-Ar), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), and the unwavering leadership commitment of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Haw) for insisting on strong whistleblower rights for employees. The proposed law is consistent with best practices Congress has enacted during the last year in the 9/11 law for ground transportation workers and in the defense authorization law for defense contractor employees. GAP also credited Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) for bipartisan consensus that turned the vote into a mandate to defend those who defend the public.
"This vote reflected relentless staff work by Democratic whistleblower champions in the Senate, who answered shrill industry attacks with a carefully reasoned approach to enhancing product safety by protecting employees," commented GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles. "This vote also reflects the work of Republican offices who listened to the evidence and worked together for a consensus instead of using industry scare tactics as an excuse to do nothing."
The Senate legislation protects both corporate and CPSC employees who challenge violations of the consumer safety law, or who refuse to violate it themselves. If they do not receive a speedy administrative ruling, they can move their cases to court for a jury trial. Those who win will be "made whole" through back pay and compensatory damages.
In December the House passed a bill without any whistleblower protections. House leaders on the legislation explained that they support the concept, but want it enacted comprehensively for the entire private sector, rather than piecemeal in individual laws. GAP's Devine responded, "We share the goal of a comprehensive whistleblower protection law, and have been working to achieve it for the last 25 years. In the meantime, however, CPSC reforms need to be enforced. Consumer safety reforms won't be worth the paper they're written on if those who challenge violations proceed at their own risk," explained Devine. "The best thing House leaders can do for systematic whistleblower reform is to cover the corporate retail and manufacturing sector in this legislation as a powerful precedent."