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Project on Government Oversight

POGO and Groups Urge Congress to Protect Whistleblowing Scientists

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March 18, 2008

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

In the next few weeks, House and Senate negotiators are working to reconcile bills to enhance whistleblower protections for federal employees. Your leadership on this issue will help to ensure that the final version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act contains specific protections for federal scientists who blow the whistle on the suppression or distortion of federal research or technical information. Such protections, which were incorporated into the House passed whistleblower bill, H.R. 985, are crucial for the health and safety of all Americans.

Federal government scientists play a crucial role in providing data and scientific analyses to policy makers so they can make the best, most informed decisions about our environment, health, and national security. Whether it is toy safety, drug efficacy, or air quality, we count on federal agencies to use independent and unbiased science to protect us from harm.

Federal law has defined a whistleblower as someone who reports waste, fraud and “abuse of authority.” This definition, however, fails to address the problems facing too many federal scientists.

Surveys, investigations, and media reports increasingly show that federal science is being manipulated, suppressed, and distorted. Indeed, of the nearly 3,400 federal scientists across nine agencies who have responded to questionnaires by the Union of Concerned Scientists, more than 1,100 scientists report that they fear retaliation for openly expressing concerns about their agency’s mission-driven work.

Scientists who expose the suppression and distortion of their work should be protected for alerting the public to potential dangers. For this reason, any comprehensive whistleblower law that Congress approves this year must define “abuse of authority” to include the suppression and/or distortion of federal research and technical information.

Specific whistleblower protections would not give federal scientists the right to usurp legitimate supervisory oversight or policy making that appropriately is delegated to political appointees and senior managers, nor would it allow them to violate federal law shielding national security and proprietary information. Rather, they would afford a federal scientist whose work has been suppressed or distorted protection from reprisal if the scientist publicly reported these attempts.

At a time when Congress has serious concerns about an aging federal workforce and the United States is facing unique scientific and technical challenges, it is crucial that federal agencies do all they can to retain their most experienced and skilled scientists and technicians. Whistleblower protections for scientists and researchers would improve morale at federal agencies and help to retain and recruit dedicated civil servants.

We urge you to advocate for a final bill that would provide protection from retaliation for exposing attempts to censor, distort, or suppress any scientific or technical research. Congress must recognize that scientists must be able to work to protect the health and safety of Americans, without interference, and should be able to speak out about distorted or suppressed scientific findings without retribution.

Sincerely,

Mary Alice Baish, Acting Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries

John W. Curtis, Ph.D., Director of Research and Public Policy
American Association of University Professors

Christopher Finan, President
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Lynne E. Bradley, Director, Office of Government Relations
American Library Association

Patricia S. Schroeder, President & CEO
Association of American Publishers

Wayne C. Shields, President and CEO
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals

Terry Francke, General Counsel
Californians Aware

William Snape, Senior Counsel
Center for Biological Diversity

Paul Kurtz, Chairman
Center for Inquiry

Kirsten Stade, Program Manager, Integrity of Science Project
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director
Conservation Northwest

Sarah Dufendach, Vice President of Legislative Affairs
Common Cause

Rachel Weintraub, Director of Product Safety and Senior Counsel
Consumer Federation of America

Ellen Bloom, Assistant Director of the Washington Office
Consumers Union

Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President
Defenders of Wildlife

Dr. Jim Murtagh
Doctors for Open Government

Susan A. Holmes, Senior Legislative Representative
Earthjustice

Jon Hunter, Policy Director
Endangered Species Coalition

John Richard, Director
Essential Information

George Anderson
Ethics in Government Group

Daniel Hirsch, Executive Committee
Concerned Foreign Service Officers

Steven Aftergood, Project Director, Project on Government Secrecy
Federation of American Scientists

Gwen Marshall, co-Chairman
Georgians for Open Government

Tom Devine, Legal Director
Government Accountability Project

Helen Salisbury, M.D.
Health Integrity Project

Brett Kimberlin, Director
Justice Through Music

Mike Kelly
Fish Biologist, Former Whistleblower

Michael D. Ostrolenk, Co-Founder/National Director
Liberty Coalition

Mary Treacy, Executive Director
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Joan E. Bertin, Esq., Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship

Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., President
National Research Center for Women & Families

Amy Allina, Program Director
National Women's Health Network

Karen Wayland, Legislative Director
Natural Resources Defense Council

Kim Nelson
Research Wildlife Biologist

Rick Engler, Director
New Jersey Work Environment Council

Sean Moulton, Director of Information Policy
OMB Watch

Patrice McDermott, Director
OpenTheGovernment.org

Larry Siems, Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs
PEN American Center

Danielle Brian, Executive Director
Project On Government Oversight

David Arkush, Director
Public Citizen's Congress Watch

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Kirsten Moore, President and CEO
Reproductive Health Technologies Project

James A. Landrith, Jr., Founder
The Multiracial Activist

Ron Marshall, Chairman
The New Grady Coalition

Ellen Paul, Executive Director
The Ornithological Council

John W. Whitehead, President
The Rutherford Institute

Kevin Kuritzky
The Student Health Integrity Project

Dane vonBreichenruchardt, President
U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation

Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D., Director, Scientific Integrity Program
Union of Concerned Scientists

Bruce McIntosh, Staff Ecologist
Western Nebraska Resources Council

John Young
Retired Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Follow the link to read the Coalition press release