Whistleblowers: Best Defense Against Corruption
By Angela Canterbury. Originally published on The Hill’s Congress Blog.
For years now, corrupt interests have co-opted our government for political gain and private profiteering. Our best line of defense when the law is ignored and regulation fails are the informed insiders who believe so strongly in the importance of accountability and saving taxpayer dollars – and often saving lives – that they are willing to risk their careers and safety to expose government wrongdoing.
It is a national disgrace that speaking out about government fraud, misconduct, waste and corruption is still such a risky endeavor. More often than not, whistleblowers suffer from some form of serious retaliation, including threats, demotion or outright firing for exposing wrongful conduct. Conscientious civil servants deserve strong statutory protections, not risk and intimidation. Yet many end up sacrificing because the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act has been interpreted and enforced in a way that weakens the protections Congress intended – protections that government whistleblowers desperately need.
It’s time to end the discrimination and retaliation – as well as the unmistakable and deeply chilling message it sends to all employees that they should keep quiet, or else. Congress should complete the marathon legislative effort to restore a credible Whistleblower Protection Act.
In March 2007, the landmark “Whistleblower Enhancement Protection Act of 2007” passed the House by a veto-proof majority, 331-94. A weaker Senate version, S. 274, passed last year by unanimous consent.
The differences between the bills are manageable. Yet negotiations have stalled as industry lobbyists have swarmed the Capitol, imperiling many critical protections that already passed with strong majority support. Especially during this time of war, it is critical that we extend protections to federal employees who work in national security, including those at intelligence agencies, as well as to federally funded contractors. Scientists also require specific protection. Most importantly, all federal employees and contractors also must have a right to jury trials in federal court when other administrative remedies have failed.
We join 111 other concerned organizations in calling on Congress to waste no more time enacting these protections – and not put more whistleblowers at risk by hesitating. They deserve better. And the American people deserve a government in which employees are not threatened and penalized for being stewards of the public trust. We need them now, more than ever.