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Whistle-Blowers Urge Congress to Get Tougher on Retaliation

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By Stephen Barr
Friday, April 29, 2005

A group of more than 50 whistle-blowers called on Congress yesterday to strengthen protections against retaliation by federal agencies when employees expose improper activities or mistakes that could damage homeland and national security.

Sibel Edmonds , a former FBI language specialist, has taken the lead in forming the group, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. She was fired as a wiretap translator after alleging that a co-worker was leaking information about an FBI investigation.

Among those joining Edmonds at the Capitol Hill news conference were Coleen Rowley , a retired FBI agent who faulted headquarters for not allowing Minneapolis agents to pursue a terrorism probe before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; Mike German , a former FBI agent who said his career was "put on ice" after he reported wrongdoing; and John Vincent , a retired FBI agent who spoke on behalf of Robert Wright , a veteran agent who was fired after claiming the bureau had mishandled investigations of the Palestinian group known as Hamas.

They and other speakers urged Congress to tighten up whistle-blower protections, give inspectors general more clout to investigate employee disclosures, and take steps to prevent agencies from stonewalling lawmakers on issues of homeland and national security.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said at the news conference that he would introduce legislation to extend to federal employees and contractors whistle-blower protections given to private-sector workers by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was aimed at corporate accountability.

Markey said his proposal would protect employees from retaliation when they reported to their agency or Congress concerns about national or homeland security, public safety, or fraud, waste and abuse. Employees would file complaints at the Labor Department and would have a right to take their cases to federal court if the department failed to act within six months, Markey said.

The prospects for Markey's proposal are uncertain. He noted that he had offered the proposal as an amendment to the fiscal 2006 authorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security and that it had been rejected in committee on a party-line vote.

At the news conference, the Project on Government Oversight, a whistle-blower advocacy group headed by Danielle Brian , handed out a report that said government whistle-blowers are coming forward in greater numbers since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and are being greeted with harassment, dismissals, demotions, loss of security clearances and other reprisals.

Because of the Sarbanes-Oxley law, the report said, corporate whistle-blowers "are much better protected from retaliation than their counterparts in the public sector, even though the consequences of corruption in government are equally, if not more, far-reaching."

Retirements

Nestor Arellano , a software designer at the Air Force Pentagon Communications Agency, will retire Tuesday after 43 years of government service.

Harold Burghart , senior adviser in the office of chief counsel at the Internal Revenue Service, is retiring today after more than 32 years of federal service, including 26 years with the IRS.

Ken Hubenak , a public affairs specialist at the IRS, will retire Wednesday after 30 years with the IRS. He started in Dallas as a taxpayer service specialist and has worked in media relations for 13 years.

Jeffrey S. Milstein , a senior policy and strategic analyst, retired March 31 after 31 years of federal service. He worked at the departments of State, Commerce, Defense, Energy and Treasury, the White House and the CIA.

Talk Shows

Kirke Harper , chairman of the Public Employees Roundtable, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on http://federalnewsradio.com/ .

Charles L. Kincannon , director of the Census Bureau, will be the guest on the "IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Do I Still Have a Good Government Job?" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail:barrs@washpost.com


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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