Oct. 16, 2017

Kudos to the House For Uniting Behind Passage of Federal Whistleblower Protections

Statement of Shanna Devine, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed four bills in support of federal whistleblowers. The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S. 585), which the Make It Safe Coalition and Public Citizen supported in a letter (PDF), has advanced in both chambers and holds federal managers accountable when they engage in whistleblower retaliation. The All Circuit Review Act (H.R. 2229) makes permanent a pilot provision within the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that allows federal whistleblowers to appeal cases from the Merit Systems Protection Board in any circuit court of appeals with jurisdiction. H.R. 2196 expands the scope of authorized recipients for classified disclosures, consistent with Presidential Policy Directive-19. The Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act of 2017 (H.R. 378) increases the bonus award from $10,000 to $20,000 for employees who identify waste, fraud and abuse within agencies.

Last week, the House of Representatives banded together to unanimously advance four federal whistleblower bills. This otherwise rare act of unification reflects Congress’ bipartisan mandate to protect the brave employees who disclose government wrongdoing. The measures range from holding retaliators accountable to increasing whistleblower bonuses, specifically:

• Managers have been able to engage in retaliation without being held accountable, acting with impunity and causing a severe chilling effect for would-be whistleblowers. However, federal managers will now have to think seriously about the consequences before silencing the messenger. After an independent finding of illegal retaliation, the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act requires agencies to propose remedies and discipline to address the behavior of managers who illegally retaliate against whistleblowers.

• The House has preserved a cornerstone of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act 2012 (WPEA) through passage of the All Circuit Review Act, which allows federal whistleblowers to file an appeal in the court where they live or work. Prior to enactment of the WPEA, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals was the sole circuit court of jurisdiction, and it has maintained a negative track record against whistleblower claims. Congress must take the next step to protect federal whistleblowers by providing them with access to a jury to challenge retaliation, akin to employees in the private sector. 

• The House has expanded the scope of authorized recipients for classified whistleblower disclosures to include supervisors within the chain of command up to the agency head. This commonsense measure was only established for employees within the intelligence community under the Obama administration. The House measure expands and codifies this right for all employees handling classified information.

• Employees take an immense professional and personal risk when they consider blowing the whistle, despite their duty to report waste, fraud and abuse. The Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act of 2017 sends a positive message to these courageous civil servants by doubling their prospective financial reward. For this incentive to take root, however, managers need to use it on a routine basis to reward good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Voters deserve the House bipartisanship demonstrated in support of federal whistleblower protections.  The Senate should swiftly follow suit and advance these good government measures without delay.

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