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Project on Government Oversight

DC Government Considering Strong Whistleblower Protection Bill

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July 8, 2009

As part of POGO's effort to identify good government practices at the state and local level, POGO's Indrid Drake attended the DC City Council's Committee on Government Operations and the Environment's June 26, 2009 hearing on the "Whistleblower Protection Amendment Act of 2009." It will likely become law, as 12 of the 14 council members signed on to introduce the bill. If the components of the bill remain the same through the mark-up process, it could be one of the most protective and comprehensive whistleblower protection laws in the nation. (For a look at how your state ranks on whistleblower protection, check out PEER's great analysis.)

First off, I want to commend the Committee staff for following the good oversight hearing practice of having those most affected by the legislation speak first (the whistleblowers), followed by the subject matter experts (public interest groups), and lastly the government panel. This format, which we recommend during our COTS training to congressional staffers, ensures that government witnesses have to respond to any allegations raised by the whistleblowers and advocates. Also, by first spotlighting the harassment and humiliation experienced by employees from the DC Departments of Fire, Police, and Health, who blew the whistle on discrimination, corruption, and conflicts of interest, the hearing set the stage to explore why DC needs a “modernization” of its whistleblower protection laws.

Some of the key components of the proposed legislation include:

  • Making it illegal for a supervisor to launch a retaliatory investigation of an employee who blew the whistle;
  • Holding supervisors personally liable for retaliation, meaning whistleblowers could sue their boss for up to $10K for harassment;
  • Allowing employees to bring a civil action even if they have brought an administrative claim; and
  • Giving whistleblower protections to contract employees.

Our colleagues Tom Devine and Richard Condit at the Government Accountability Project (GAP) testified in support of the legislation, and also recommended that the bill be strengthened by:

  • Clarifying other muddled areas of the current law, such as the legal burdens of proof;
  • Granting the right of reprisal victims to file counterclaims in the same lawsuit related to the disciplinary action;
  • Protecting employees against forced psychiatric fitness-for-duty examinations; and
  • Requiring the District to establish a safe channel for employees to file formal whistleblowing disclosures and participate in corresponding investigations.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.