Congress needs to implement an effective ethics agenda. Important anti-corruption legislation has been sitting in Congress awaiting action. Strong corporate ethics laws, based on incentivizing whistleblowers to report frauds, are urgently needed, especially in light of the trillions of dollars in actual or proposed federal spending for COVID-19 relief efforts and other infrastructural fixes. These whistleblower-based ethics laws are based on procedures that have triggered thousands of successful prosecutions and billions of dollars recovered from fraudsters.
We need your help urging Senators, Representatives, and the White House to pass these laws and protect whistleblowers. To push these bills forward, the National Whistleblower Center is sending a Million Messages to Congress in order to urge Senators and Representatives to codify this Ethics Agenda into law.
Help us enact a lasting ethics agenda and make strides in the advancement of whistleblower protections. To learn more, read NWC Board Chair Stephen M. Kohn‘s overview editorial piece in The Hill, here.
The nine core pieces of legislation aim to:
1. Call for Recognition of National Whistleblower Day – Each year, members of the House and Senate introduce and pass resolutions designating that year’s July 30th as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.” Doing so solidifies congressional support for whistleblowers and shows those whistleblowers that advocates on and off Capitol Hill exist. However, it is time to make this day permanent.
Whistleblowers’ contributions – and sacrifices – should be remembered and celebrated. By requiring every department in the federal government to finally commit to recognizing whistleblowers and their importance on July 30th of every single year, the President and Congress could take a key step towards a more transparent, pro-whistleblower future. It is time to eliminate this question and for whistleblowers to be free of this yearly uncertainty.
2. Confirm Members to the Merit Systems Protection Board – The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has not held a quorum in over four years and has not had a single sitting member since 2019. The MSPB is the only administrative agency with jurisdiction to enforce employment rights for federal employee whistleblowers, including the Whistleblower Protection Act. The backlog of cases grows steadily as each day passes without members.
President Biden has now nominated three members, but a hearing has yet to held by the Senate Homeland Security Committee on these appointees and approve them. Thousands of federal employee whistleblowers are in limbo, awaiting news on their cases. The Homeland Security Committee must send the nominees to the Senate floor for a vote.
3. Fix the Anti-Money Laundering Act – In December 2020, the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act passed with whistleblower protections included in its money laundering title, the Anti-Money Laundering Act. However, the anti-money laundering whistleblower provisions fall far short of best practices for protecting whistleblowers. Two problematic provisions in the title’s whistleblower section persist.
One would allow the Treasury Department near unlimited discretion in setting award amounts to whistleblowers without judicial review, meaning low bounty awards could be approved without oversight. The other provision excludes employees of FDIC-insured banks and credit unions, leaving them defenseless against retaliation. These loopholes must be fixed in order to encourage and award brave anti-money laundering whistleblowers who come forward and need protection.
4. Defend COVID-19 Whistleblowers – Despite laying their lives on the line amid a global pandemic, hospital workers and others on the frontlines against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still lack critical federal whistleblower protections. Frontline workers are unable to bring their cases to court and must file cases with the Department of Labor (DoL) within thirty days of retaliation, for which the DoL can refuse to file on your behalf – meaning you automatically lose.
If Congress is serious about protecting workers and their right to safe workplace, it must demand commonsense reforms to protect our workers. Weaknesses in laws like the Occupational Health and Safety Act must be strengthened in order to adequately safeguard the whistleblower rights of American healthcare workers and laborers.
5. Fund the Commodity Whistleblower Program – Due to the success of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) whistleblower program and the growing number of highly qualified whistleblowers eligible for awards, the CFTC Customer Protection Fund, which paid whistleblowers and helped operate the CFTC Whistleblower Office, neared depletion. Despite setting whistleblower award records at the CFTC, the program was slowly going bankrupt.
This critical fund to incentivize whistleblowers needs support in order to continue the success of the CFTC and protect American taxpayers.
6. Stop the “Repeal by Delay” of the IRS Whistleblower Program – On average, it takes the IRS almost ten years to process the average whistleblower case. On top of that, the IRS has reported that numerous whistleblowers have died before their claims could be processed and paid. Whistleblowers have already helped the IRS bring in over $6 billion dollars of unpaid taxes – but there are still billions more that remain uncollected.
In the Senate, Senators Charles. Grassley and Ron Wyden introduced the IRS Whistleblower Program Improvement Act of 2021 alongside Representatives Mike Thompson and Mike Kelly in the House that would introduce important reforms to the IRS whistleblower tax program, including the right to anonymity, and fix key delays.
7. Pass the False Claims Act Reforms – Crucial amendments to the federal False Claims Act introduced by Senator Charles Grassley aimed at protecting whistleblowers from retaliation and blacklisting and preventing anti-whistleblower judges from creating higher burdens of proof for whistleblowers failed to make it into the 2021 Infrastructure Bill after targeted attacks from Big Pharma and corporate interests. This attack halted key protections for whistleblowers in the amendment, as technicalities in the False Claims Act have allowed corrupt contractors to escape liability and skate by while stealing from taxpayers.
A group of bipartisan Senators including Sens. Grassley, Durbin, Wicker, and Kennedy are still fighting alongside several public interest groups. With these whistleblower protections stripped, it is critical these amendments pass.
8. Enact Whistleblower Protection for Climate Change and Wildlife Trafficking – A critical bipartisan whistleblower bill from Representatives Garamendi and Young that would protect whistleblowers who report wildlife and environmental crimes awaits reintroduction. Modeled on the Dodd-Frank Act, the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act would protect the anonymity of whistleblowers reporting wildlife trafficking, IUU fishing, and illegal logging practices and authorize awards for these whistleblowers under the State Department.
This bipartisan bill needs to be reintroduced and quickly passed. Extinctions last forever.
9. Protect Grid Whistleblowers – Whistleblower protections are also needed to protect the electric grid. The electric grid currently faces an unprecedented number of cyberattacks that present serious national security risks, and the combination of rising temperatures and poorly maintained infrastructure could spark wildfires. Electric grid workers with safety and security concerns currently rely on a patchwork of weak protections, and in 2019, a PG&E employee was fired after reporting fire safety concerns.
To fix this, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced an amendment last year that would extend whistleblower protections to electric grid workers who report concerns related to fire safety or the protection or security of electric infrastructure and information. To protect the electric grid, Congress must reintroduce this amendment and act to protect the workers who are essential to maintaining the grid.
You can read NWC Board Chair and co-founder Stephen M. Kohn’s call to action featured on The Hill on Labor Day 2021, here.