Protections in Stimulus Bill Help Workers Hold Government Accountable
A Joint Statement from a Coalition of Public Interest Groups
Washington, D.C. February 3, 2009. Monday's Washington Post editorial, "Wrong Way to Protect," did a disservice to its readers and the taxpayers when it opposed provisions in the economic stimulus bill that are designed to empower federal whistleblowers.
The editorial argues that the reform should be pursued through ordinary
legislative channels rather than included in the stimulus, stating
"This is not the way it's supposed to work." This is exactly how it is
supposed to work:
Federal whistleblower protection legislation has had the benefit of
hearings, and has been vetted in both chambers for several years. This
is not an extraneous measure, as the editorial suggests. In both
chambers, the original stimulus bills included whistleblower
protections for state and local employees. Members of the House had
the good sense to recognize that the massive stimulus package creates
an urgent need for federal employees, who are the taxpayers' first line
of defense against waste and fraud, to be given the same protections
afforded state and local employees.
Congress has diligently built a record to strengthen federal
whistleblower protections through a robust legislative history (see
fact sheet below). Identical whistleblower protections overwhelmingly
passed the House as a stand-alone measure, 331-94, in 2007. Despite
eight years of hearings, committee meetings, mark-ups, and four House
and Senate votes, federal employees who expose waste, fraud and abuse
remain vulnerable to intimidation, reassignment and termination, with
no effective means to fight retaliation. Even so, whistleblowers each
day risk their careers and come forward with evidence of misconduct,
much to the benefit of The Washington Post and other newspapers that
have earned prizes for their reporting on information whistleblowers
In addition, the editorial cites curious concerns about disclosures
of classified information (which could have been cleared up with a
careful reading of the text). There is nothing in the bill to condone
any "breach" - "unilateral" or otherwise. However, after some members
of Congress raised legitimate concerns about the procedure for
disclosure of classified information, the House managers agreed on the
floor to work together with the Intelligence Committee to address those
concerns. The members who raised the concerns were satisfied, and
voted for the whistleblower amendment. We too are confident that those
issues will be resolved. In fact, because the law will allow for only
lawful disclosures to those with the appropriate security clearances,
it actually will prevent leaks and so-called "breaches."
But it is important to recognize the central purpose behind
protecting federal employees in the stimulus: Taxpayers need their
help in detecting fraud and waste. The stimulus bill authorizes the
expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars; as taxpayers, we need the
best oversight possible. Countless studies have verified that
whistleblowers are the most effective weapon against fraud. This
includes recent statistics by the U.S. Department of Justice, which
announced that whistleblowers were responsible for returning over $1
billion to the U.S. Treasury in 2008 alone. In addition,
PriceWaterhouseCoopers recently surveyed more than 5,000 corporations
worldwide and found that whistleblowers, by far, were the most
effective means for the initial detection of corporate fraud, besting
internal auditors and law enforcement. The editorial asserts that it
is somehow "disingenuous" to claim that whistleblowers will "enhance
accountability." But the evidence shows that there is no better means
of enhancing accountability. We believe there is no excuse to spend
another $888 billion without first locking in this proven
accountability safeguard. Lastly, whistleblower protections, unlike
every other provision in the stimulus, will save money, not spend it.
If lawmakers reject these provisions, they will be sending federal
employees a very strong signal: Keep your head down and don't rock the
boat. Employees know what happens to colleagues who step forward and
expose waste, fraud and abuse in government. Federal workers who have
reported wrongdoing have lost more than 98.5 percent of cases at the
Federal Circuit Court of Appeals since 1994, when Congress last
unanimously strengthened the law. During the entire Bush
administration, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board ruled only
twice that the whistleblower law was violated.
It's time to end the culture of secrecy and guarantee that the
federal workforce has our support in making sure our stimulus dollars
are spent honestly and effectively.
American Federation of Government Employees ● Government Accountability Project (GAP) ● Liberty Coalition ● National Employment Lawyers Association ● National Treasury Employees Union ● National Whistleblower Center ● OpenTheGovernment.org ● OMB Watch ● Project on Government Oversight ● Public Citizen ● Union of Concerned Scientists ● U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation
Whistleblower Legislative History Fact Sheet
The chronology below highlights the recent legislative history of
federal whistleblower protections reform. To summarize, it has the
benefit of four hearings, eight markups where authorizing committees
with the relevant expertise approved it, and four House or Senate
votes. Its final enactment has been blocked once by an unrelated
filibuster and three times by secret holds.
October 2000: Whistleblower Protection Act legislation introduced in Senate.
July 2001: Whistleblower Protection Act legislation introduced in House.
August 2001: Senate conducts first hearings.
September 2001: September 11th attacks and anthrax scares halt legislative progress.
August 2002: House Government Reform Committee marks up a version of
legislation, as part of legislation to create a Department of Homeland
Security (DHS). The provision fails by six votes on the House floor
after being merged with a controversial measure to provide collective
bargaining rights for DHS employees.
October 2002: Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approves the bill
in markup as part of the DHS legislation, but a filibuster over other
issues prevents the committee-approved version of the DHS bill from
being voted on, and the WPA is not in the substitute later enacted.
November 2003: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) conducts second set of hearings.
July 2004: Senate HSGAC marks up the legislation again.
September 2004: House Government Reform Committee marks up legislation.
September/October 2004: A secret legislative hold blocks a Senate vote of committee-approved bill.
May 2005 - Senate HSGAC Committee marks up the bill again, but floor
votes are blocked by secret holds until adjournment. Senate leadership
does not schedule floor time to overcome secret holds.
September 2005: House Government Reform committee marks up the legislation again.
June 2006 - Senate approves the WPA legislation as part of the FY2007 Defense Authorization bill.
October 2006 - Agreement reached among conferees and by relevant
committee chairmen, but whistleblower language disappears from text of
final bill after being sent for publication. Congressional sources
traced the action back to orders from House leadership at the request
of the Justice Department and the White House.
February 2007 - House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds
hearings on whether to add protection for national security
whistleblowers in the legislation.
March 2007 - House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds hearings and marks up legislation.
March 2007 - House passed the legislation, H.R. 985, 331-94, despite a veto threat issued by the Bush administration.
November 2007 - Senate HSGAC committee again marks up the legislation, S. 274.
December 2007 - Senate again passes the legislation, S. 274, by unanimous consent.
September 2008 - Informal agreement reached for a compromise between
H.R. 985 and S. 274, and another bill is offered, but secret holds by
two offices block votes in the Senate again. Advocates subsequently
learned that the two Senators did not have subject matter expertise or
prior involvement with the legislation, but rather placed heir holds as
a courtesy to requests by the Department of Justice and CIA,
January 2009 - The same WPA legislation approved by the House in 2007
again is approved as an amendment to the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act without dissent. The whistleblower amendment is the
only bipartisan amendment considered and approved on the House floor
during debate of the underlying stimulus legislation, H.R. 1.
Revised February 3, 2009