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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Energy and Nuclear Workers' Rights Grow

April 15, 2005
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Energy and Nuclear Worker Rights Grow;
Bill Passed By Committee Would Extend Additional Whistleblower Protection
(Washington, DC) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today hailed Tuesday's vote by the House Government Reform Committee to upgrade whistleblower rights of corporate and government employees within the nuclear weapons and power industry. A whistleblower protection amendment was approved by unanimous voice vote at the markup of HR 1533, the Federal Management Improvement Act, which is the civil service portion of the massive omnibus energy bill. This amendment would extend landmark free speech rights Congress passed in 2002 as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate accountability reforms for publicly traded companies to federal Department of Energy (DOE) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) workers and contract employees. That law gave whistleblowers access to jury trials when threatened or retaliated against for disclosing waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement to the public. To this point, the House Energy and Commerce Committee with primary jurisdiction has not adopted the language, opting to remain with conference committee language from last session's energy bill that would grant court access for corporate workers, but not government whistleblowers.
The continuing investigation by the Government Reform Subcommittee headed by Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV) into the falsification of documents related to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository proves the need for stronger whistleblower protections for nuclear industry workers.
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, "The drive to restore genuine whistleblower rights for government workers is picking up steam. On Tuesday the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to restore the original free speech boundaries of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). This action by its counterpart, the House Government Reform Committee, goes much further in giving public servants at the DOE and NRC who challenge fraud, waste and abuse the same rights as corporate whistleblowers. Taxpayers can thank the leadership from ranking Government Reform member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) for proposing the amendment, Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), and the entire Government Reform Committee for their voice vote in favor of this provision."
Even if not ultimately adopted, the House committee vote is a significant precedent in the effort to restore the WPA, a law riddled with loopholes that severely undermine its effectiveness. Government watchdog organizations hope the committee will consider the same reforms when it marks up WPA legislation applicable to all government workers.
Davis and Waxman supported a similar measure in 2002 for employees of the then-new Department of Homeland Security, which was stripped by House leaders after committee approval. Normal court access gives workers greater rights than currently available through civil service administrative law mechanisms like the WPA.
Two years ago, the House Committee with jurisdiction, the Energy and Commerce Committee, passed identical reform under leadership of then-Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). The measure was approved by the full House, but died during political impasse stemming from other issues.
"Nuclear whistleblowers must have this protection in order to safeguard communities and lives," said Devine. "We will again work to get the strongest protections possible in the final conference version of the energy bill."
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