Congress has passed strengthened protections for military whistleblowers and victims of sexual assault against unfair retaliation which are headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Provisions based on the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, sponsored by Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in the Senate and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Cali.) and Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) in the House, were adopted in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2014 (NDAA). These provisions will help protect service members who make the difficult and brave decision to come forward and report sexual assault or other misconduct.
POGO fought hard for passage of these reforms to upgrade the disgracefully broken whistleblower protections for our troops. In November, POGO partnered with the Government Accountability Project to organize a letter urging senators to support the legislation. The letter was co-signed by a variety of notable military whistleblowers and concerned groups with diverse interests and ideologies.
Improvements in the Military Whistleblower Protection Act include a extending the time limit to report misconduct from a short 60-days to one year, which is more in line with other federal workers and contractors and gives potential whistleblowers sufficient time to find counsel. It also requires the Service Secretary take action within 30 days of receiving a complaint, and that a higher level service Inspector General (IG) investigates reprisal charges, not the level where the whistleblower is stationed. It also requires the military support whistleblowers through the difficult investigatory process, rather than having them navigate on their own, as they do now. Importantly, whistleblowers and victims of retaliation for reporting sexual assault are now guaranteed an administrative due process hearing.
The changes are necessary and a long time coming, said Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy at POGO.
"Today, Congress finally upgraded the protections for the brave men and women who come forward to report waste, fraud, and abuse---including sexual assault---in the military,” she said. “We sincerely thank Senators Warner, Collins, Kaine, and Grassley, as well as Representatives Speier and Coffman, for championing these critical reforms to increase accountability and readiness in the military. We look forward to working with them and their dedicated staff in the new year to ensure our troops have the protections they deserve in practice."
One critical reform not included was leveling the playing field for whistleblowers attempting to prove retaliation. POGO will work to ensure our men and women in uniform are guaranteed the same fair chance afforded to other federal workers.
Speaking out on wrongdoing in the military can be particularly challenging for service members who are trained to stay in line and follow orders. Too often, those who report sexual assault and other wrongdoing (and many don’t) are unfairly punished. These long-needed reforms will go a long way towards making sure members of the military come forward without fear of retaliation to help root out the misconduct that hurts our country.