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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Senate Committee Approves Whistleblower Bill

April 18, 2005
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(Washington, DC) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) hailed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's unanimous approval today of S. 494, the Federal Employees Protection of Disclosure Act. The bill would amend the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) by ensuring protection against reprisal for federal employees who disclose government wrongdoing publicly. On paper, this law was the strongest workplace free speech legislation in history when unanimously approved by Congress in 1989 and strengthened in 1994. Subsequent court interpretations, however, have created loopholes undermining the law's intent and crippling its effectiveness. From 1994-2004, of the 97 WPA claimants bringing cases to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, only one has prevailed on the merits.
"This vote reaffirms the deep, bipartisan support for whistleblower rights by senators who know the issue," commented Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director. "It reflects almost five years' effort by senators and staff who worked hard to win a victory for the taxpayers instead of political parties. The bill is nicknamed the Taxpayer Protection Act. Taxpayers should thank the determined leadership of Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) for this breakthrough. They can also thank Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), George Voinovich (R-OH) and Carl Levin (D-MI) for pioneering the reform, and their staffs for relentlessly building the record that supports it.
"The vote is especially timely, since whistleblowers no longer have any rational basis to hope for informal relief by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC)." The OSC is the government's official whistleblower protection agency, but is embroiled in controversy for allegedly closing hundreds of cases without investigation, purging whistleblowers from its own staff who protested, and imposing an illegal gag order on the office.
GAP leads a bipartisan coalition that has urged Congress to revive credible whistleblower rights since a 1999 court decision left federal whistleblowers largely defenseless. Since then, this expanding coalition has fought to restore the law's original mandate. Other organizations joining GAP's WPA campaign and pressing for Senate passage include the American Liberty Association, American Federation of Government Employees, Federation of American Scientists, Information Trust, Integrity International, National Taxpayers Union, National Treasury Employees Union, National Whistleblower Center, OMB Watch, the Patrick Henry Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Taxpayers Against Fraud, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
A 1999 ruling by the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals held that government workers are protected against reprisal only when possessing "irrefragable" proof of official misconduct, a virtually impossible standard to achieve. Additionally, the court ruled that WPA does not protect federal workers when they expose misconduct related to their job duties or when not the first individual to raise the issue. S. 494 would establish reasonable burdens of proof, close the coverage loopholes, restore normal access to appeals courts, and extend protection to national security whistleblowers stripped of their security clearances. GAP and its coalition partners are also pressing for similar action in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Last fall both House and Senate committees approved the reform shortly before adjournment, but the Justice Department convinced congressional leaders not to schedule a vote. "Hopefully, House and Senate leaders will find time for this Congress to vote on whistleblower rights instead of allowing them to be killed in secret back room deals," Devine added. "This is a solid bill that gives government workers back the right to be public servants instead of silent bureaucrats. The legislation is a much-needed breakthrough against abuses of power that betray the public trust. It is unrealistic to expect federal workers to defend the public if they can't defend themselves."
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