Washington, DC - The United States Senate last night unanimously approved the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (S. 743), which would strengthen protections for federal employees who come forward to disclose government waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.
The legislation is authored by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, and cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joe Lieberman (ID-Connecticut), Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Tom Carper (D-Delaware), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and Chris Coons (D-Delaware).
Senator Akaka said: "Whistleblowers are critical to effective, accountable government. My bill gives them the protection they need. The American people deserve to know that whistleblowers will be protected when they have the courage to come forward to disclose wrongdoing."
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: "This update to the Whistleblower Protection Act makes big steps forward for all federal government employees. It restores the congressional intent behind the law, but it is especially important in establishing whistleblower protection for employees in the intelligence community for the first time, without endangering national security. We'll continue to fight for improvements that give whistleblowers the security they need to help us uncover the skeletons hidden deep in the closets of the federal bureaucracy."
Senator Lieberman said: "Whistleblowers are key to improving the performance of the federal government and must be protected for having the courage to speak out about waste, fraud, and abuse. Without these protections, those closest to the problems will remain silent for fear of retaliation, and American taxpayers will pay the price. I am particularly pleased this bill extends protections for the first time to employees of the intelligence community, which will strengthen our national as well as our economic security."
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 would amend the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) to:
- 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 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 WPA 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 December 2010, a nearly identical version of this bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House passed a similar version of the bill, but Congress adjourned before the two versions could be reconciled.