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Lawmakers Sound Alarm on Obama’s NDAA Signing Statement

House and Senate whistleblower champions have expressed grave concerns with the President’s recent signing statement, objecting to disclosures to Congress. Today, Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent this letter to President Obama:

Individuals within our government are in the best position to protect taxpayers’ hard-earned money and ensure the integrity of their employing agencies and departments. You agreed with this sentiment when on November 27, 2012, you signed into law the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). As you know, this legislation closed judicially-created loopholes that adversely affected government employees who expose waste, fraud and abuse in the federal bureaucracy.

 

During the debate over this legislation, serious consideration was given to extending whistleblower protections to the country’s millions of non-defense federal contractor employees. While these protections were not part of the WPEA, they were included in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Sections 827 and 828 of the NDAA enhanced and strengthened current protections for defense contractor employees, and creates a four-year pilot program for non-defense contractors and grantees respectively.

 

However, we are concerned your statement that accompanied the signing of the NDAA into law may be perceived as undermining Congressional intent and discouraging individuals from helping to protect taxpayer dollars. With respect to Sections 827 and 828 you stated, “…I will interpret those sections consistent with my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential.” This statement seems to ignore that sections 827 and 828 of the law contain clear exceptions for those employees working in the intelligence community.

 

Furthermore, your statement could be perceived as potentially eroding protections for federal workers and discouraging them from helping expose improper behavior. A Project on Government Oversight spokeswoman was quoted in the Washington Post saying, “It may not have been his intent, but with this signing statement, the president appears to be thumbing his nose at Congress, whistleblowers, and taxpayers.”

 

The Legislative Branch has the Constitutionally-mandated authority and responsibility to oversee the Executive Branch, and federal employees and government contractors have the right and obligation to bring information to Congress in a lawful manner. We encourage you to enforce the law as written. In doing so, your administration will show its dedication to transparency and accountability at all levels of the federal government.

The quote was made by POGO’s Director of Public Policy to The Washington Post. She also said:

It is encouraging to see these Members of Congress speaking out in defense of the new law to protect truth-tellers who risk so much to serve the public interest and protect taxpayer dollars. We also share their concerns about the balance of powers between Congress and the presidency.

In order for Congress to conduct oversight mandated by the Constitution, Congress must be able to hear about waste, fraud, and abuse from executive branch employees, contractors, and grantees—without restrictions. This letter is a critical first step in ensuring proper checks and balances and protections for whistleblowers.

By: Suzanne Dershowitz
Public Policy Fellow, POGO

suzanne dershowitz At the time of publication Suzie Dershowitz was a public policy fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Related Content: NDAA

Authors: Suzanne Dershowitz

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