The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which has been bouncing around Congress for a decade, took an important step toward becoming law with House approval Friday.
The bill would strengthen protections for federal employees who report waste, fraud and abuse. The measure closes loopholes created by court interpretations of an earlier whistleblower law. The loopholes had the effect of restricting whistleblower protections. Under the current legislation, for example, whistleblowers don’t have to be the first to report misconduct to be covered, according to the Government Accountability Project (GAP), an advocacy group that supports the legislation.
The bill also establishes whistleblower protections for Transportation Security Administration employees, allows the Office of Special Counsel to file briefs supporting employees who appeal certain rulings in whistleblower cases and requires ombudsmen in agency inspectors general offices to inform personnel about whistleblower rights.
A provision strengthening whistleblower protection rights for employees of intelligence agencies and another allowing jury trials for appeals of agency actions against whistleblowers were are not included in the current bill.
“The good news is that the whistleblower rights in this bill are the strongest in history for federal workers,” said Tom Devine, GAP’s legal counsel. “Congress has restored credible free speech rights for government employees who want to expose corruption and defend taxpayers.”
The legislation won bipartisan praise from its sponsors:
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.): “This bill will protect all lawful disclosures of waste, fraud, and abuse. Court decisions have narrowed the scope of protected disclosures in a way that the Office of Special Counsel says handcuffs it in its efforts to protect whistleblowers.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): “It is a sad truth that many of these whistleblowers faced reprisal because they embarrassed those in power who were happy to waste taxpayer money or violate the law. By passing the Whistleblower Protection and Enhancement Act today, the House of Representatives sent a clear message to those who help us protect the American people and their hard-earned tax dollars: We stand beside you.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.): “By providing new rights, remedies and protections for government whistleblowers, this bill increases accountability and takes an important step toward curbing waste, fraud and abuse. This bill had included important protections for national security employees. Unfortunately, jurisdictional disputes prompted the deletion of these protections which I deeply regret.”
The Senate is expected to act on the bill in November.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.