Landmark Whistleblowing Protection Bill Passes Congress, Awaits Obama's Signature

Posted 15 November 2012 | By Alexander Gaffney, RAC 

The House and Senate have both passed a new law that would grant new protections for federal whistleblowers, winning praise from government oversight groups and even a whistleblowing protection agency within the government itself.

The bill, the Whistleblower Protection and Enhancement Act (WPEA), had been stalled since late October after it passed both chambers of Congress in slightly different forms. The hang-up regarded protection for intelligence whistleblowers, such as those employed by the Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency. Those employees will not gain the protections afforded to other federal employees under the WPEA.

New Protections for Federal Employees

As reported by Regulatory Focus at the time, the bill would allow for employees to raise concerns about waste, mismanagement, fraud, abuse and other illegal activities. It would not, however, allow for whistleblowers to disagree with "legitimate policy decisions." Disclosing evidence of the censorship of scientific and technical information would also be given protected status under the bill, and ombudsman positions would be established to educate all agency officials about their rights as whistleblowers.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which has had a prominent voice in a recent whistleblowing scandal involving the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), would also be given the right to file amicus curiae briefs with federal courts on behalf of whistleblowers. In a statement on 13 November, OSC applauded the bill's passage through Congress, calling it an important step in "promoting government accountability."

"Chairman Akaka and the other sponsors of this legislation deserve gratitude for their tireless efforts to pass this good government legislation," said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner.  "OSC stands ready to implement these long-overdue reforms, which will better ensure that no employee is retaliated against for speaking out against government waste or misconduct."

Public and Bipartisan Support for Bill

Non-governmental organizations gave their support to the bill as well.

"Millions of civil federal employees no longer need live in fear of retaliation for standing up to wrongdoing in the workplace," Public Citizen wrote in a statement. "Reforms such as these create a vehicle for workers to safely call out potential hazards in the workplace without retaliation from their employers. By giving federal workers more opportunity and resources to identify hazardous workplace situations, the government will become more efficient."

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a government accountability and transparency group, called the measure "significant" and identified it as a "common-sense reform that reflects a true bipartisan agreement to enhance protections for federal whistleblowers and increase government accountability to taxpayers."

"After a 13-year roller coaster campaign, Congress unanimously has given whistleblowers who defend the public a fighting chance to defend themselves," added Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project (GAP). "This is a major victory for taxpayers and public servants, but a major defeat for special interests and bureaucrats. Free speech rights for government employees never have been stronger."

The bill now moves to President Barack Obama for his signature, which is expected.

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