WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009 (S. 372) yesterday. The bill amends the existing Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) and strengthens the rights and protections of federal employees who come forward to disclose government waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.
The legislation is sponsored by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) and Ranking Member Susan M. Collins (R-ME) and cosponsored by Chairman Joe I. Lieberman (ID-CT), and Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), all members of the Committee. Additional cosponsors include Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Mark L. Pryor (D-AR), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Roland Burris (D-IL).
Senator Akaka said: “For too long federal employees have feared retaliation for coming forward to disclose government wrongdoing. This legislation ensures that federal whistleblowers are provided the protections they need to help us stop waste and abuse. I hope that the new modifications to the bill will ensure enactment this year.”
Senator Collins said: “Whistleblowers play a crucial role in Congress’s efforts to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and to help ensure the effectiveness of government programs. They provide crucial information that Congress and our Committee need to conduct proper oversight of the federal government. Our legislation would increase whistleblower protections for federal employees and give them the peace of mind that, if they speak out, they will be protected.”
Chairman Lieberman said: “Protecting whistleblowers serves the national interest because whistleblowers often warn us of waste, fraud and abuse that Congress or the executive branch can address. This legislation will help assure that the whistleblowers of tomorrow, who can help identity illegality and inefficiencies in essential government programs, will not be silenced by threats of retaliation.”
Senator Voinovich said: “The federal government’s most critical asset is its people. This legislation clearly provides the protection federal employees deserve if they find themselves subject to retaliation following a credible disclosure of waste, fraud or abuse. Protecting the federal workforce is critical to the integrity of government programs and operations.”
The bill as amended would:
- Clarify that federal employees are protected for any disclosure of waste, fraud, or abuse – including those made as part of an employee’s job duties, except disclosures of minor, inadvertent violations.
- Provide whistleblower protections for employees at 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.
- Provides all federal employees a process for making protected disclosures of classified information to Congress.
- For a period of 5 years, allows whistleblowers to bring their cases before a jury in district court provided that the case meets certain conditions, such as the Merit Systems Protection Board is unable to issue a final decision within 270 days or certifies that the case involves novel issues of law.
- Sets up a process for Intelligence Community employees to bring allegations of retaliation for whistleblowing, establishes the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Board (ICWPB) to hear such cases, and makes judicial review available for ICWPB decisions.
- Sets up a process within the Executive Branch for the adjudication of whistleblower claims where the adverse personnel action is the denial or revocation of a security clearance or the denial of access to classified information.
- Creates a Whistleblower Ombudsman in every Inspector General office to advocate for federal whistleblowers.
- Suspends the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals sole jurisdiction over federal employee whistleblower cases for five years, which would ensure a fuller review of a whistleblower’s claim.