Bill to Expand Protections for Whistleblowers and Taxpayers Passes the Senate by Unanimous Consent
American Federation of Government Employees, Emily Ryan, 202-639-6421
OpenTheGovernment.org, Patrice McDermott, 202-332-6736
Union of Concerned Scientists, Celia Wexler, 202-390-5481
In an unusual display of unanimity, yesterday the Senate passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (WPEA), S. 743, a landmark bill that would expand protections for federal employees who disclose wrongdoing and protect the public trust.
The bill has had a storied past over the past decade as various versions have been introduced, debated, and passed. In 2010, when it seemed enactment was finally certain, an unrelated controversy about Wikileaks muddled the debate and killed the bill. Two senators placed “secret holds” on the bill in the last hours of the 111th Congress and left town for the holidays. In fact, the WPEA has little to do with Wikileaks—except in that it will create lawful safe channels for disclosures and reduce unauthorized leaks. The Senate has affirmed that this anti-leaks, anti-corruption bill is a timely reform.
The WPEA will modernize the government whistleblower law by ensuring legitimate disclosures of wrongdoing will be protected, increasing government accountability to taxpayers, and saving billions of taxpayer dollars by helping expose fraud, waste and abuse. The WPEA will also restore and expand free speech rights, specifically covering national security and intelligence community workers, federal scientists, and Transportation Security Administration officers. The bill also will strengthen failed procedures; close loopholes; create efficiencies; and affirm lawful disclosures. For the first time, some federal whistleblowers would have a real “day in court,” since the bill provides access to a jury trial in federal district court.
The longtime champion for this reform and for whistleblowers, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), was joined by 14 co-sponsors, including, Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Our groups thank these senators for their leadership and their staff for their tireless efforts in advancing this critical reform legislation.
But now the bill must become law. A companion bill in the House, the Platts-Van Hollen Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 3289), introduced by Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and co-sponsored by Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Todd Platts (R-Pa.), Steve Pearce (R-New Mex.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), has stalled since the Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed it in November.
Rep. Issa has promised to move the bill, stating, “We will get it through in this Congress.” We urge him and the House leadership to move swiftly now to pass the WPEA to prove their commitment to tackling waste and increasing accountability to the American taxpayer.
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.