By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
With nary an objection, the Senate approved legislation to strengthen protections for federal employees who reveal waste, fraud and abuse, setting up negotiations with the House on the first major expansion of whistle-blower rights since 1989.
The bill, sponsored by Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), was approved on a voice vote late Monday. The House in March approved a bill to strengthen whistle-blower protections for federal employees.
For six years, efforts to get whistle-blower legislation through Congress have been opposed by the Justice Department, blocked by senators and dropped from legislative packages at the last moment.
"It is easy to be cynical, but this is one genuine reform where Congress is doing its share," said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower protection organization.
The bill would protect federal employees who make any disclosure, permit employees to share classified information with members of Congress and protect whistle-blowers whose security clearances are revoked because of retaliation.
It also would set up a five-year experiment under which federal employees could take their cases to a nearby federal appeals court when challenging administrative rulings, rather than to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as is now required.
There are 400 to 500 whistle-blower cases in the government every year, and advocacy groups contend that agencies often try to silence or discredit employees who speak out about waste and mismanagement.
Akaka said "recent instances of government waste, fraud and abuse clearly demonstrate the need to promote disclosure of wrongdoing." Collins said the Senate bill would help ensure that congressional committees "have access to the information necessary to conduct proper oversight."
The White House has objected to parts of the House and Senate bills, including provisions that would allow judicial review of executive branch decisions to revoke security clearances.
Because there are differences between the House and Senate versions, negotiators will begin work, probably next year, on a compromise, a congressional aide said.Retiring at the FBI
Michael A. Mason, the FBI's executive assistant director for criminal investigations, retired yesterday after 23 years at the bureau. In an emotional ceremony at FBI headquarters, Mason was hailed by colleagues as passionate and hardworking.
Those attending included FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, former FBI director William S. Sessions and former D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey. Mueller choked up as he praised Mason, 49, who rose through the ranks to become one of the highest-ranking African American officials in FBI history.
Mason's colleagues created a mock news video by splicing together congressional testimony by Mueller and Mason. Joseph Persichini Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, presented Mason with an American flag that flew over FBI headquarters, the Capitol, and FBI offices where Mason worked in New Haven, Conn., Washington, Syracuse, N.Y., Buffalo and Sacramento.
FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole tossed Mason a basketball signed by his colleagues. Mason rose every morning at 3 a.m. and shot hoops in the FBI gym before arriving at his desk by 6. "It is a melancholy day," Pistole said.
In January, Mason becomes the chief security officer at Verizon Communications in Basking Ridge, N.J.Resigning at DHS
Marta Brito P¿rez, the top personnel policy official at the Department of Homeland Security, will resign Jan. 6, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced yesterday.
P¿rez has worked on creating a new system for evaluating the job performance of department employees. She also tried to turn around employee attitudes after a 2005 survey in which the department got low marks on leadership, innovation and fairness.
Chertoff said P¿rez "leaves in place a strong transition plan and team that will carry the department through 2009."
Staff writers Sari Horwitz and Allan Lengel contributed to this column.