Washington, DC – A bipartisan group of Senators led by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Senator Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) today introduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 to strengthen the existing Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). They were joined in this effort by Senators Collins, Grassley, Lieberman, Levin, Carper, Leahy, Harkin, Pryor, Landrieu, McCaskill, Tester, Begich, and Cardin.
Senator Akaka said: "Whistleblowers protect the American people by disclosing waste, fraud, abuse, and illegal activity. This bill strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act and restores congressional intent that whistleblowers be protected from retaliation. This protection is crucial to efforts to improve government management, cut the deficit, protect public health and safety, and to secure the nation."
Senator Collins said: "Congress has consistently supported the principle that federal employees should not be subject to prior restraint or punishment from disclosing wrongdoing. This should give federal workers the peace of mind that if they speak out, they will be protected. Full whistleblower protections will also help ensure that Congress and our Committee have access to the information necessary to conduct proper oversight."
Senator Grassley said: "Whistleblowers are key to unlocking the secrets deep in the closets of our bureaucracy. They’ve helped me uncover untold amounts of waste, fraud and abuse across the federal government. This important update to the Whistleblower Protection Act will restore the congressional intent of the law and also includes a provision we worked out in the last Congress to provide employees in the intelligence community whistleblower protections for the first time."
Senator Lieberman said: "The importance of federal whistleblowers in helping root out gross mismanagement and abuse in the federal government cannot be overstated. From FBI lawyer Coleen Rowley, who unsuccessfully sought an investigation of a 9/11 co-conspirator before the terrorist attacks, to U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, who was fired for criticizing the lack of funding for the Park Police, whistleblowers play an important role in improving government performance. This legislation will help assure that the whistleblowers of tomorrow will not be silenced."
The legislation would:
· clarify that "any" disclosure of gross waste or mismanagement, fraud, abuse, or illegal activity may be protected, but not disagreements over legitimate policy decisions;
· suspend the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals sole jurisdiction over federal employee whistleblower cases for five years.
· extend WPA coverage and other non-discrimination and anti-retaliatory laws to all employees of the Transportation Security Administration;
· clarify that whistleblowers may disclose evidence of censorship of scientific or technical information under the same standards that apply to disclosures of other kinds of waste, fraud, and abuse.
· codify and strengthen the anti-gag provision that has been part of every Transportation-Treasury Appropriations bill since 1988.
· allow jury trials under certain circumstances for a period of five years;
· provide the MSPB with authority to consider and grant summary judgment motions in certain cases for a period of 5 years;
· clarify that employees protected by the WPA may make protected classified disclosures to Congress using the same process as Intelligence Community employees;
· establish protections for the Intelligence Community modeled on existing whistleblower protections for FBI employees;
· establish a process within the executive branch for review if a security clearance is allegedly denied or revoked because of a protected whistleblower disclosure;
· establish Whistleblower Protection Ombudsmen to educate agency personnel about whistleblower rights; and
· provide the Office of Special Counsel with the independent right to file “friend of the court” briefs, or amicus briefs, with federal courts.
In late 2010, a nearly identical version of this bill passed the Senate and a modified version passed the House, but Congress adjourned before the two versions could be reconciled. Prior versions of the bill also passed the Senate by unanimous consent in 2007, and have been approved by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in the last five Congresses.