While members of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sometimes split on party lines, they came together Thursday to unanimously support the Platts-Van Hollen Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2011 (H.R. 3289), a bill that would bring much needed protections to federal workers and contractors who step forward to report wrongdoing.
The House bill and a similar measure in the Senate (S. 743) have strong bipartisan support in Congress, and are backed by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and other advocacy organizations representing more than a million members across the political spectrum.
“Whistleblower protections are long overdue,” POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury said. “We urge the House and Senate to act quickly on this legislation—we need to give government workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse real protections if they are fired or demoted for doing the right thing.”
The Committee’s decision means the bill now goes before the full House for a vote. A similar bill cleared a Senate committee last month and is awaiting a vote in that chamber.
The whistleblower bill was introduced in the House by Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was co-sponsored by Committee’s Ranking Member, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), as well as the cosponsors of last year’s version of the bill Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Rep. Christopher Van Hollen (D-Md.).
The federal whistleblower bills modernize and expand the current law to make legal channels for disclosures of wrongdoing safer. Among other critical reforms, it closes gaping loopholes and provides protections for the intelligence community. Canterbury said POGO is particularly pleased with the chairman’s and committee’s strong support of the provisions to protect intelligence community workers.
The bill also includes a two-year pilot program to extend protections to federal contractors. POGO supports this pilot and will work with the committee to ensure it includes best practices to make it successful.
POGO also strongly supports two amendments that were added to the bill—one by Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) to ensure warnings made by intelligence community whistleblowers to supervisors in the chain of authority are also protected, and an amendment by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) asking for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on how agency whistleblower hotlines are working. A third amendment by Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), to provide whistleblowers access to jury trials was not accepted, but Canterbury said POGO will push to have it added to the final bill.
“Though the legislation passed by the Committee today does not contain every reform we have sought, it will go a long way to improve the status quo for whistleblowers and increase government accountability to taxpayers,” said Canterbury. “We’ll keep working to strengthen the bill and push for enactment before the end of the year. It’s time for Congress to deliver on their promises for more transparency and accountability.”
Follow the link to the coalition letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.