By Jim Kouri
With the understanding that many government employees — including those handling classified intelligence — fear blowing the whistle on their agencies and superiors and so remain silent and allow corruption to continue, some lawmakers are looking to beef up protections for whistleblowers.
As a result, on Friday the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 3289). The legislation will strengthen provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Act, originally enacted in 1989, for federal government employees who expose abuse, mismanagement, or criminal activity in federal agencies and programs, according to Rep. Issa.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, is an original co-sponsor of the legislation, as are Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who sponsored whistleblower protection enhancement legislation during the last congress.
Similar legislation was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in October.
“Whistleblowers play critical roles in exposing wrongdoing in government,” said Issa.
“Federal employees who discover waste, abuse and mismanagement in their agency need to be able to alert agency leaders and Congress without fear of reprisal from supervisors, and within the confines of the law. This legislation establishes new protections for those who seek lawful ways to address abuse of taxpayer dollars.”
When enacted, the legislation will hoepfully:
• increase avenues for intelligence community whistleblowers to safely and legally expose waste, fraud and abuse at intelligence agencies;
• close judicially-created loopholes in existing whistleblower protection law;
• extend whistleblower protection rights to some 40,000 airport security officers (screeners);
• create specific protection in the law for scientific freedom;
• ensure a permanent anti-gag statute to neutralize classifications like “classifiable,” “sensitive but unclassified,” “sensitive security information” and other poorly defined security labels;
• establish consistency with other remedial employment laws;
• strengthen the Office of Special Counsel’s ability to seek disciplinary accountability against those who retaliate, and provides the OSC with authority to file friend of the court briefs in support of whistleblower rights cases appealed from the administrative level;
• create a pilot program to extend whistleblower protection to non-defense contractors.