House lawmakers reintroduce bill to protect federal whistleblowers

By Brittany R. Ballenstedt bballenstedt@govexec.com March 12, 2009

 

 

House lawmakers on Thursday reintroduced legislation that would strengthen whistleblower protections for federal employees who report fraud, waste or abuse in government programs.

 

The bill’s sponsors — Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Todd Platts, R-Pa.; Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and Bruce Braley, D-Iowa; — said at a press conference on Thursday that stronger whistleblower protections for federal employees are especially necessary as the government seeks to ensure proper oversight and transparency in the management of the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

 

“As part of the recovery package, the federal government will make an unprecedented investment in our country,” Van Hollen said. “We must ensure this money is spent transparently. This legislation will protect federal employees who expose corruption or mismanagement and in doing so will help protect the taxpayers’ funds from waste and misuse.”

 

The House in January unanimously passed the bill as an amendment to the economic stimulus package to try to quell concern over how the funds are spent. But congressional negotiators stripped the amendment from the legislation over national security concerns. The final version of the recovery package included protections only for whistleblowers at the state and local levels as well as employees of institutions that receive stimulus funding.

Specifically, the legislation would grant federal employees the right to a jury trial in federal court, protect government scientists who report efforts to alter or suppress federal research, extend protections to FBI and intelligence community whistleblowers, strengthen protections for contractors, nullify the government’s use of state secrets privilege, and bar the Merit Systems Protection Board from ruling in favor of an agency before whistleblowers have the opportunity to present evidence of retaliation.

 

The measure also would grant comparable due process rights to employees who provide information on wrongdoing during a government investigation or who refuse to violate the law, and would remove the Federal Circuit’s monopoly on precedent-setting whistleblower cases. It also provides whistleblowers with the right to collect compensatory damages.

 

The bill also would give enforceable whistleblower protections to 45,000 Transportation Security Administration officers and the ability to seek a remedy from an external independent fact-finding body.

Towns, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on Thursday that he plans to hold a hearing on the legislation as soon as possible with the aim of passing the bill before the stimulus money starts being spent. “The money is going to be out there, and we have to make certain the money is being spent properly,” he said.

 

“The House should act quickly to reaffirm its mandate and lock in accountability before the stimulus gears up,” said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project. “Otherwise, unprecedented new spending will be an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste and abuse.”

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