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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Endorses National Security Workforce Accountability Bill

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December 13, 2013

Statement of Angela Canterbury,
Public Policy Director, Project On Government Oversight

On Thursday, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate to reverse an activist court decision that threatens civil service and whistleblower protections for many federal employees.

The Project On Government Oversight strongly supports the legislation, S. 1809, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) with original cosponsors Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). It is a companion to H.R. 3278, sponsored by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).   

This critical reform ensures the civil service and whistleblower protections Congress always intended but that were ignored by an activist court decision. This bill would help prevent agencies from hiding wrongdoing and firing workers with national security labels by restoring long-standing review of these decisions.

In August of this year, a devastating court decision stripped federal employees in national security sensitive positions of their right to appeal an adverse personnel action—setting the stage to also strip due process rights for actions that are discriminatory or in retaliation for whistleblowing. The deeply flawed decision in Kaplan v. Conyers, Northover and MSPB (Conyers) arms agencies with sweeping power not granted by the President or Congress and creates an accountability vacuum. If an agency fires a national security sensitive employee for having made a legally protected whistleblower disclosure or because of that employee’s race or religion, there very likely would be no review or oversight of that action—even if the employee had no access to classified information or any credible national security role.

The Tester-Grassley-McCaskill legislation would simply clarify the longstanding right of employees in positions labeled as national security sensitive to seek a review of adverse personnel actions before the Merit Systems Protection Board. It would not affect employees with security clearances and access to classified information.

The legislation comes on the heels of a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing on “Safeguarding Our Nation’s Secrets: Examining the National Security Workforce” where POGO urged senators to introduce this reform. At that hearing I told members: “We are deeply concerned that national security claims threaten to engulf our government and, with cruel irony, make us less safe.”

It’s time for Congress to be far less deferential to this Administration and others on claims of national security. Congress must assert its constitutional powers to restore the balance between the branches of government. Congress can begin by reining in the nearly unbridled power of the agencies to misuse national security labels and make whole swaths of our government hidden and unaccountable.

POGO strongly supports this bipartisan effort and thanks Sens. Tester, Grassley, and McCaskill, and Del. Holmes Norton, for standing up for government accountability.

Follow the link to read Canterbury's testimony.

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.

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