I am excited to announce that earlier this week the senate voted to approve the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. According to the Office of the Special Counsel, which will enforce the new legislation, the WPEA will increase protections for Federal whistleblowers by:
- Nullify court decisions that narrowed protections for government whistleblowers.
- Extend whistleblower protections to other federal employees, such as TSA officers, who are not protected by current legislation.
- Restore the OSC’s ability to seek disciplinary action against retaliatory supervisors.
- Offer full relief for victims of unlawful retaliation, by cleaning employee records and offering compensatory damages.
- Explicitly protecting government scientists who make disclosures related to the integrity of the scientific process.
- Ensuring that whistleblower protections take precedence over agency non-disclosure agreements.
- Requiring each government agency to have a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsperson.
It is wonderful to see Congress finally standing up for government whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are essential to transparent, accountable government agencies. Unfortunately, blowing the whistle is rarely without consequences. Many federal employees face intimidation and retaliation when trying to bring light to illegal—and often dangerous—government practices.
While the WPEA greatly increases protection for government whistleblowers, Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project reminds the Washington Post that there is still progress to be made:
“It would be dishonest to say our work is done, however, or to deny that government whistleblower rights are still second class compared to those in the private sector. House Republicans blocked two cornerstones of the legislation: jury trials to enforce newly-enacted protections, and extension of free speech rights to national security workers making disclosures within agency channels.”
While protection for intelligence workers is not included in the bill, President Obama did help to close this gap with a Presidential Policy Directive issued in October. The directive prohibits retaliation against members of the intelligence community who seek to report fraud and illegal activity, as long as those complaints are made in such a way that sensitive information is not made public. The directive also creates channels to report misconduct and retaliation within government intelligence agencies.
This new legislation marks the beginning of what I can only hope will be a new attitude toward whistleblowers—one of appreciation. Whistleblowers are people whose integrity outweighs concern for their own wellbeing and they are routinely underpaid and underappreciated. It is wonderful to see congress (and President Obama) recognizing the necessity of whistleblowers in running an honest and efficient government. We can only hope this trend continues, so that one day, no employee has to be afraid to blow the whistle.
Do you know of government misconduct or fraud? Don’t wait. Contact Berk Law today at 202-232-7550 or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your legal rights.
Assisted by Jill Fitzgerald