Like a spring flower that pops open every year, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act has been reintroduced in the Senate.
Legislation to bolster protection for government employees who bring attention to waste, fraud and abuse, sometimes at the risk of ruining their careers, has been around for almost a dozen years.
It came within a whisker of becoming law in December, until Congress once again disappointed whistleblowers and their advocates.
Now, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), has reintroduced the bill, largely the same as previous versions except that “of 2011” is attached to the title.
According to a statement from the senators, the legislation:
lclarifies that “any” disclosure of gross waste or mismanagement, fraud, abuse or illegal activity could be protected under the law, but not disagreements over legitimate policy decisions;
lextends coverage and other nondiscrimination and anti-retaliatory laws to all employees of the Transportation Security Administration;
lclarifies 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;
lallows jury trials under certain circumstances for workers who take legal action against agencies that allegedly retaliate against employees who expose wrongdoing;
lestablishes protections for the intelligence community modeled on existing whistleblower protections for FBI employees;
lclarifies that employees protected by the legislation could make protected classified disclosures to Congress using the same process as intelligence community employees;
lestablishes a process within the executive branch for review if a security clearance is allegedly denied or revoked because of a protected whistleblower disclosure;
lestablishes whistleblower protection ombudsmen to educate agency personnel about whistleblower rights.
In the statement, Akaka said: “This bill strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act and restores congressional intent that whistleblowers be protected from retaliation. This protection is crucial to efforts to improve government management, cut the deficit, protect public health and safety, and to secure the nation.”
Collins agreed: “Congress has consistently supported the principle that federal employees should not be subject to prior restraint or punishment from disclosing wrongdoing. This should give federal workers the peace of mind that if they speak out, they will be protected.”
If it passes.
Akaka, joined by three Northern Virginia congressmen, introduced a bill this week designed to improve the training of federal supervisors. This legislation also has been around for years, although not as long as the whistleblower measure.
The training bill, which is supported by government management associations, labor unions and good-government groups, would require employees to receive training within a year of being appointed to a supervisory position and once every three years after that.
Introducing the legislation in the House were Democratic Reps. James P. Moran and Gerald E. Connolly, and Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf.
According to a press release from Akaka’s office, the training would cover:
l“developing and discussing goals and objectives with employees;
lmentoring and motivating employees;
lfostering a fair work environment;
lemployee collective-bargaining rights and workplace discrimination law;
lmanaging employees with unacceptable performance; and
laddressing reports of harassment or a hostile work environment.”
Wolf said, “Improving training for federal supervisors will create a better work environment for all federal employees, increase employee performance and productivity, and lead to a more effective federal government.”
As supervisors know, training often is the first item hit when budgets are cut. In the current climate, even if the training legislation became law, its implementation could be hampered by a lack of resources.
The federal government has a small, select group of employees whose job is to help agencies perform better through strategic planning and other tools. But these performance-improvement officers often are stymied in their performance because of conditions within their agencies, according to a survey of them conducted by the consulting firm Grant Thornton and the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group. (The partnership has a content-sharing relationship with The Washington Post.)
According to a report released this week, the performance officers said, “They often lack top-leader support for building a strong performance culture, holding people accountable and making programs and services more effective.”
The report also says the performance officers think “they do not have enough authority to improve government performance and results.”
Their performance could be improved, according to the report, by allowing them to “focus entirely on their performance management duties, undistracted by other tasks.”
Agency leaders and the Office of Management and Budget should use the work of the officers to hold senior executives and managers accountable, the report said. “Without such a commitment, real progress is unlikely,” it added.