Washington, DC – Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (S. 743). The bill amends the existing Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) and strengthens protections for federal employees who come forward to disclose government waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.
The legislation was introduced by Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) and is cosponsored by Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), and Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
“The American people benefit when whistleblowers provide information that is critical to improving government management, cutting the deficit, protecting public health and safety, and securing the nation,” said Senator Akaka, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia. “Whistleblowers who have the courage to come forward to disclose wrongdoing deserve to know they will be protected, and the rest of us benefit by encouraging them.”
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 needs to conduct proper oversight of the federal government. Among other things, the bill would increase whistleblower protections for intelligence community personnel by developing a process by which to hear national security whistleblower retaliation cases without compromising any classified information.”
Senator Grassley said: “Whistleblowers come forward when it isn’t easy. They risk their livelihoods to bring the truth to light. Yet, they are often vilified by their supervisors and coworkers for doing the right thing and revealing fraud, waste and abuse in the federal government. Moving the bill through committee is a step in the right direction, but further improvements, like adding timelines for the Attorney General to address FBI whistleblower retaliation cases, are necessary to make sure these cases don’t languish at the Justice Department, as two have for more than 5 years. I look forward to working with the sponsors to address these pressing needs.”
Senator Lieberman said: “The role of federal whistleblowers in exposing gross mismanagement and abuse is central to good government and must be well protected. Millions of dollars have been saved because courageous whistleblowers have spoken up, and they should feel safe from retaliation for doing so. 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 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 late 2010, a nearly identical version of this bill passed both the Senate and the House by unanimous consent, 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.