Washington, D.C. September 22, 2008. In March 2007, the House of Representatives passed H.R.985, strong legislation to protect federal employee whistleblowers. The measure passed the House by a margin of 331-94. In December 2007, the Senate unanimously passed S.274, its version of the law; however, the Senate bill fails to include several strong provisions that are contained in H.R. 985. Currently, efforts are underway to try to reconcile the House and Senate bills.
If the final bill enacted by Congress does not contain several key provisions that have already been passed by the House it will not be meaningful reform. In addition, it will be a setback for federal employees who blow the whistle on misconduct, fraud, waste and abuse by federal agencies if major legislation is enacted without the key elements of reform that are needed and that have proven to be effective in other whistleblower protection laws.
These major reforms that need to be included in the Senate version of the bill would:
- Provide federal employees the same access to jury trials and compensatory damages that Congress has given to millions of private-sector workers and to federal employees in civil rights cases;
- Make clear that whistleblower protections from retaliation apply to federal scientists who report efforts to alter or suppress federal research;
- Protect 40,000 federal baggage screeners, on the frontlines of homeland security, and
- Include meaningful protections for national security and FBI whistleblowers so they can seek redress for retaliation when they try to protect the American public from security breaches.
It is now September 2008, and Congress has not yet acted to pass these essential reforms. Time is running out on this legislative session as Congress plans to adjourn in a couple of weeks. If whistleblower protection reforms for federal employees are not enacted this term, new bills must be reintroduced in the new Congress that begins in January of 2009.
Recently, Sen. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, says that he is committed to seeing the legislation pass, but much work remains to be done in a short period of time. [See Whistleblowers Protection Blog ]
The bottom line is that a strong and effective whistleblower reform law is sorely needed. Whistleblowers throughout the federal government are getting hammered left and right. The new law (at least the House version) would guarantee, among other things, jury trials in federal court and protection for national security whistleblowers (employees of the FBI, CIA, etc.). Congress recently passed strong private sector coverage for 20 million manufacturing employees who blow the whistle on unsafe consumer goods, so why shouldn’t government employees have the same protection when they report waste, fraud, abuse, and national security concerns?
More than 180 grass roots public advocacy groups have joined to support passage of a strong and effective WPA reform bill. [See Sign-on Letter]