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Project on Government Oversight
 

 

 

 

Media Briefer: Whistleblower Protection Act

July 7, 2001 

 

Beth Daley, Director of Communication, Project On Government Oversight, 202-347-1122

Government Accountability Project, 202-408-0034, Tom Devine (x 124), Doug Hartnett (x 136), or Mick Andersen (x 143)

In the coming days Congress will consider a much-needed proposal to restore one of our nation's most important good government laws - the Whistleblower Protection Act. Few other acts of Congress in this session will do more to protect our government and our democracy from succumbing to corruption.

In recent years, federal workers have helped to expose and end wrongdoing on a wide range of fronts: fraud in Medicare health care for the poor, faulty aircraft wiring, IRS abuses of taxpayers, oil industry fraud, and life-threatening safety problems in military weapon systems. But instead of being rewarded for their honesty and integrity, these whistleblowers faced harassment, job-loss, demotion, and retaliation from the very people whose wrongdoing needs to be exposed.

Who's Watching Over our Taxpayer Dollars and Welfare?
No one knows how much money the federal government squanders every year. However, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee recently documented that at least $35 Billion had been wasted in FY 1998 alone. Federal employees are our nation's foot soldiers in the war against this waste and fraud.

Retaliation Against Whistleblowers: A National Disgrace
According to government surveys, one out of every 14 federal employees reported being retaliated against in the previous two years for making disclosures concerning health and safety dangers, unlawful behavior, and/or fraud, waste, and abuse (Merit Systems Protection Board, 2000). That means 124,000 government workers face retaliation every two years! This pervasive retaliation is a national disgrace.

It also silences our whistleblowers. Another survey found that 41% of employees - both public and private - who saw misconduct did not report it because they feared retribution or retaliation from their supervisor or management (Ethics Resource Center, 1994).

What does the proposed legislation do?

  • Makes Anti-Gag Statute Permanent. Permanently institutes the anti-gag statute, a provision that prevents agencies from forcing federal employees to sign agreements waiving their whistleblower rights. The anti-gag statute has been approved by Congress for 13 consecutive years as a rider on budget bills;

  • Improves Judicial Process. Right now a whistleblower's only avenue of appeal is to the hostile U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC. Under the WPA, the Federal Circuit's monopoly would be ended and a normal judicial appeal process would be used. The measure also gives the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an agency that is responsible for investigating allegations of whistleblower reprisal, greater authority so that it can seek review of cases that might set harmful or legally-inconsistent precedents.

  • Closes Loopholes in Protection. Restores Congress' intent that "any" disclosure by a federal employee - whether to a supervisor, a co-worker, or whether made as a part of job duties - will be protected. Also restores protections to employees whose disclosures are sufficiently credible rather than the impossibly high standard of "irrefragable" that was set under the Lachance v. White ruling.

What is the history of the Act?
1978 Congress includes language in the Civil Service Reform Act protecting employees from retaliation for making disclosures of information regarding misconduct.

1989 After the courts and government agencies create loopholes that limit who is protected, Congress unanimously passes Whistleblower Protection Act.

1994 Because the courts and agencies continue to create exceptions for who is protected, Congress passes amendments to strengthen the WPA. The amendments are approved unanimously by Congress. The Committee report concludes, "The plain language of the Whistleblower Protection Act extends to retaliation for 'any disclosure,' regardless of the setting of the disclosure, the form of the disclosure, or the person to whom the disclosure is made."

2001 A series of hostile judicial rulings creating more loopholes prompts Senators Akaka, Levin and Grassley introduce S. 995 to further strengthen the WPA in June. Representatives Morella and Gilman introduce corresponding legislation in the House in July.

Who is sponsoring the proposed legislation?
The following members of Congress are co-sponsoring the legislation (as of July 17, 2001), organized by state alphabetically:

Representative Bob Filner (D-CA)
Representative Jane Harman (D-CA)
Representative Steve Horn (D-CA)
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA)
Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI)
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Representative Barney Frank (D-MA)
Representative Constance Morella (R-MD)
Representative Albert Wynn (D-MD)
Representative Dale Kildee (D-MI)
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
Representative Ben Gilman (R-NY)
Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
Representative Tom Davis (R-VA)
Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA)
Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

For more information: who else supports efforts to strengthen the act?

Accuracy in Media
AFL-CIO
American Federation of Govt Employees
Cato Institute
Center for Constitutional Rights
Common Cause
Consumer Federation of America
Federation of American Scientists
Free Congress Foundation
Friends of the Earth
Government Accountability Project
Indian Law Resource Center
NAACP
National Association of Treasury Agents
National Taxpayers Union
National Whistleblower Center
OMB Watch
Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty
Project On Government Oversight
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Union of Concerned Scientists

*Click here for a complete list of organizations signing the Whistleblower Protection Act petition.  


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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