By Jim Abrams
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The House voted yesterday to strengthen whistleblower protections for federal employees, including those working for the Transportation Security Administration and others employed in national security areas.
The bill also would create specific protections for those who expose abuses of authority by those trying to manipulate or censor scientific research in federal agencies for political purposes. Critics of the administration of former president George W. Bush alleged that scientific findings were often influenced by politics.
The measure, passed by a voice vote, was attached as an amendment to the $819 billion House economic stimulus package.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who sponsored the measure with Rep. Todd R. Platts (R-Pa.), said it was relevant to the stimulus package because that legislation proposes to allot $550 billion in public funds, and "we need to make sure these funds are effectively spent and that they are not lost due to any waste, fraud or abuse."
"Most significant," said seven watchdog organizations including the Government Accountability Project, the National Whistleblowers Center and the Union of Concerned Scientists, "it creates a permanent shield for federal employee and contractor whistleblowers who challenge any misspending and it will keep protecting taxpayers long after stimulus funds are gone."
Lawmakers have been trying for nearly a decade to strengthen federal whistleblower protections. Last year, the House passed a bill identical to the measure approved by the chamber yesterday, and the Senate passed a similar bill.
But lawmakers were unable to find common ground and faced a veto from the Bush White House, which argued that the measure could compromise national security and was overly burdensome.
Van Hollen said he is confident the Senate will consider the measure and that President Obama will support it.
The bill would extend rights to all national security whistleblowers, including those at the FBI and the intelligence agencies. Also covered are federal contract workers and 40,000 airport baggage screeners working for the Transportation Security Administration.
It gives those covered by the measure access to jury trials in federal district court to challenge reprisals and ends the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit's monopoly on appellate reviews.