Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Federal Whistleblower Protection Introduced in Senate

Washington, DC – Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) reintroduced bipartisan legislation today to strengthen protections for federal whistleblowers and to encourage employees to come forward to disclose government waste, fraud, and abuse.

In introducing the Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act, Senator Akaka and Chairman Collins were joined by Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Whistleblower Protection Act, and Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), who sponsored the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act and have long championed the rights and protections of federal whistleblowers.

Additional cosponsors include Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN), Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE).

“Providing meaningful protection to whistleblowers fosters an environment that promotes the disclosure of government wrongdoing and mismanagement that may adversely affect the American public,” Senator Akaka said. “If federal employees fear reprisal for blowing the whistle, we fail to protect the whistleblower, taxpayers, and, in recent notable instances, national security and our public health. A free society should not fear the truth.”

Senator Collins added, “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.”

“Federal employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse take great risks and often face huge obstacles in doing the right thing,” Senator Levin said. “We’ve been working for years to strengthen the laws protecting government whistleblowers from being retaliated against on the job. This bipartisan bill is a big step toward that goal. I hope the Senate will pass this legislation this year.”

On introducing the bill in the Senate, Senator Akaka cited recent examples of several high profile whistleblowers and the positive impact they have had on national security and public health. Senator Akaka praised their efforts, but expressed concern over the very public struggles these individuals endured after alerting the public to waste, fraud, abuse, and security and health violations and the impact it could have on others coming forward.

“The importance of federal whistleblowers in helping root out gross mismanagement and abuse in the federal bureaucracy was made manifest last year with the brave testimony by Richard Foster, Medicare’s top actuary, in revealing the long-range cost of the President’s Medicare drug bill,” Senator Lieberman said. “This legislation will help assure that the whistleblowers of tomorrow will not be silenced.”

At the root of the whistleblower’s struggles to enforce their rights lies problems with the current legal structure and interpretation of the Whistleblower Protection Act. As a result of recent court decisions, legitimate whistleblowers have been denied adequate protection from retaliatory practices. In fact, federal whistleblowers have prevailed on the merits of their claims before the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which has sole jurisdiction over federal employee whistleblower appeals, only once since 1994. “We must address these problems to ensure that employees feel comfortable making disclosures in order to combat government mismanagement,” Senator Akaka said.

The Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act is identical to S. 2628, which was introduced in the 108th Congress. That bill was passed unanimously by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 21, 2004.

The legislation seeks to clarify congressional intent regarding the scope of protection provided to whistleblowers; provide for an independent determination as to whether a whistleblower was retaliated against by revoking his or her security clearance; establish a pilot program to suspend the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals’ monopoly on federal employee whistleblower cases for a period of five years; and provide the Office of Special Counsel, which is charged with representing the interests of federal whistleblowers, the authority to file amicus briefs with federal courts in support of whistleblowers.

“Congress has a duty to provide strong and meaningful protections for federal whistleblowers,” said Senator Akaka. “Only when federal employees are confident that they will not face retaliation will they feel comfortable coming forward to disclose information that can be used to improve government operations, our national security, and the health of our citizens.”