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Good Governments Groups Hail Tentative Approval of State of the Art Nuclear Safety Whistleblower Protection

April 2, 2003 

 

Contact: Danielle Brian (202) 347-1122 or
Government Accountabilty Project: Tom Devine, (202) 408-0034 ext. 124, or Martin Edwin Andersen, ext. 143

Bipartisan support for a provision of a pending Energy Policy Act of 2003 that gives nuclear workers state of the art whistleblower protection, passed unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee late Tuesday, was immediately hailed by good government groups. The non-profit public interest organizations said the measure is an important first step in providing federal employees involved in homeland security real help if they raise the alarm against security threats or waste, fraud and abuse of power, or when they disclose health, safety or environmental violations.

The measure, sponsored by Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D.-Mass.), was considered long-overdue by whistleblower advocates, who point out that by protecting the rights of national security whistleblowers, Congress is really protecting the health and safety of all Americans.

"Nuclear facilities are the Achille's heel of America's vulnerability to terrorists," said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a Washington, D.C.-based whistleblower advocacy group. "This amendment signals a bipartisan commitment to protect those who warn of holes in our nuclear safety net."

"Whistleblower laws don't get any better than this" Devine added. "It provides no loopholes, and protection for government and corporate workers at nuclear facilities. If harassed, they have the right to a day in court before a jury."

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), another good government advocacy group, noted that just last year both GAP and POGO had cosponsored a "Paul Revere" forum on Capitol Hill. There whistleblowers from both government research laboratories and nuclear power plants told of their harrowing personal dramas resulting from "daring to commit the truth" about these institutions vulnerabilities to terrorist attack.

"It is truly fitting that one of those responsible for this important fix in the nation's laws, Mr. Markey, represents Paul Revere's own Congressional district," Brian said. "There is no more patriotic act than protecting those who exercise the freedom to warn the public of safety or security concerns. Mr. Tauzin and Mr. Markey should be congratulated for stepping up to the plate."

"All too often, legislators are willing to give whistleblowers a rhetorical pat on the back while at the same time leaving them vulnerable to reprisal," Devine added. "Talk is cheap. Mr. Tauzin's leadership in getting this legislation passed in the committee proves his commitment to making sure whistleblowers have a fighting chance, by giving them real, enforceable legal rights."

The groups pointed out that the legislations extends a key provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate accountability law passed last year by Congress--modern legal burdens of proof giving employees a fair chance to win, and access to District Court jury trials if no the Department of Labor makes no ruling in 180 days - to the DOE workers. In doing so, the law's anti-reprisal shield is also extended to privately-held firms that contract for much of expert or highly technical nuclear safety work in the industry.

The bill also ends the practice of reimbursing contractors for attorney fees in the wake of legal decisions that their clients had engaged in illegal retaliation against whistleblowers. Tom Carpenter, head of GAP's nuclear safety program and a long-time champion of putting an end to such costly taxpayer-subsidies for reprisal against employee free speech rights, said one result of the bill may be a reduction in expensive lawsuits.

"Besides siphoning multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded payments to law firms, this provision for contractor reimbursement seriously discouraged settlements and prolonged reprisal litigation," Carpenter said. "It meant the guaranteed taxpayer money spigot got turned off whenever a case was resolved. Financially, industry lawyers had everything to gain and nothing to lose by dragging out appeals ad nauseum, sometimes for as long as 12 years."


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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