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July 29, 2009

Public Citizen Lauds Senate Committee for Strengthening Bill to Modernize Whistleblower Protections

Statement of Angela Canterbury, Director of Advocacy, Public Citizen's Congress Watch Division

After many months of advocacy and negotiations, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bipartisan bill today that will dramatically strengthen and modernize protections for federal government whistleblowers.

Finally, many federal workers will be able to bring their claims of retaliation for whistleblowing before a jury of their peers should the administrative agency fail to rule within a reasonable amount of time. Federal scientists and transportation security workers get much-needed specific protections. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009 (S. 372) also closes several loopholes in the current law, including what qualifies as a protected disclosure.

While there is room for improvement in the bill, it is far and away a stronger bill than was passed last year in the Senate, and much closer to the House version, H.R. 1507. Public Citizen would like to see full access to jury trials, without qualifiers or sunset provisions, as well as coverage for all federal contractors. Work also must be done to ensure that the board reviewing claims by intelligence is truly independent and functional. We are encouraged that there will be opportunities to address some of these key reforms which are still needed as the legislation continues to move through the House and Senate.

Members of the committee, their staff, and White House liaisons worked with the whistleblower and taxpayer rights community to forge a bill with strong bipartisan support. They are to be commended, as are the members of the committee for their votes today - but none more than the lead co-sponsors Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and their diligent staff for pursuing a bill that we expect will pass the Senate without objection soon.

The federal system for whistleblowing has been broken for a long time, causing countless workers to suffer in silence after witnessing waste, fraud or abuse in government. Today there is more hope than ever that the system soon will be fixed to truly protect whistleblowers and taxpayers.

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