POGO Letter to Homeland Security Committee Regarding TSA Baggage Screeners
Improve Whistleblower Protections
for Homeland Security Employees
Mike Rogers, Chairman and Kendrick B. Meek, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Management, Integration, and Oversight
202 John Adams Building
Washington, DC 20540
Dear Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Meek:
We are writing to urge your subcommittee to adopt an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Management and Operations Act of 2006 which will improve whistleblower protections for employees who expose corruption, incompetence, fraud, and abuse of power. Employees of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are on the front lines of the War on Terror. When it comes to blowing the whistle, though, they are sitting at the back of the bus.
As things currently stand, government bureaucrats can fire, harass, and otherwise retaliate against honest employees when they bring their concerns to the Congress or to the public. As a result, employees have no incentive to assist you in your oversight of the Department, by alerting you to brewing problems.
Representative Edward Markey plans to introduce language to improve whistleblower protections in the markup of the bill. We urge your subcommittee to vote for it. Congress has already given these same whistleblower protections to workers at publicly traded corporations under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and for energy workers as part of last year's Energy Act. Workers who protect American lives from acts of aggression and terrorism deserve no less.
Under the Markey Amendment, a whistleblower can file a complaint with the Department of Labor. If the whistleblower's case is not handled in a timely way by the Department of Labor, the whistleblower can take his or her case to the courts for a trial by jury. This ensures that, if for some unforeseen reason the Department of Labor is unable to process cases, the whistleblowers have other legal options.
This language is of particular important to Transportation Security Administration baggage screeners, because when the Congress passed the Homeland Security Act, it inadvertently neglected to give baggage screeners whistleblower protections.
The Administration's own head of whistleblower protections, U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch, urged that baggage screeners get these protections in a legal brief in 2004, saying: "When Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, they made it clear that whistleblower protection is an integral part of protecting homeland security. Providing full whistleblower protections to screeners will help ensure that Congress's goals in establishing DHS are realized." However, administrative law judges disagreed, ruling that the Congress must take action in order to allow baggage screeners to have the same protections that all other civil service employees have.
If you have further questions, please contact POGO's Senior Investigator Beth Daley at 202-347-1122.
1 "Homeland Security employees will retain whistleblower rights," Govexec.com, November 20, 2002. http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/1102/112002p1.htm
2 "Office of Special Counsel Files Friend of Court Brief Supporting Full Whistleblower Protections for Transportation Security Administration Screeners," U.S. Office of Special Counsel, May 24, 2004. http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2004/pr04_08.htm
3 “Memorandum of Understanding Between the U. S. Office of Special Counsel and the Transportation Security Administration Regarding Whistleblower Protections for TSA Security Screeners,” May 28, 2002. http://www.osc.gov/documents/tsa/tsa_mou.htm