Julia Davis, a notable whistleblower who prevailed in her struggle against the Department of Homeland Security, recently released an article concerning the reintroduction of the Senate version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (S. 743). Ms. Davis notes that one of the main supporters and architects of the current law to protect federal employees, the Whistleblower Protection Act, has referred to it as a “Frankenstein” and how the reform bill (WPEA, S. 743) that is intended to correct the current law, is dangerously close to becoming the “Bride of Frankenstein.” Ms. Davis concisely explains how S. 743 is “replete with deceptive guillotines masquerading as haircut machines” and includes most of the problems that were in the prior version of the bill (S. 372) from last Congress. For example, the Senate bill gives the Merit Systems Protection Board new powers to summarily dismiss a whistleblowers case, allows for an extremely limited right to seek a jury trial in federal court for a small number of employees, and lacks meaningful protections or court access for national security whistleblowers.
Ms. Davis along with the National Whistleblowers Center, Federal Ethics Center, National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, No FEAR Coalition and numerous citizen activists publicly opposed prior efforts to pass a whistleblower bill just for the sake of saying that a bill was passed. In December of 2010, we pointed out seven major flaws or shortcomings in the predecessor Senate WPEA bill, S. 372, that failed to pass the last Congress.
When the WPEA was reintroduced in the Senate in April of 2011 as S. 743, the Senate sponsors agreed to fix one of the most glaring problems with the bill. Convincing the Senate to make this one important change was no small feat, particularly when powerful Washington lobbyists and groups were working feverishly behind the scenes to urge Congress to pass the badly flawed bill without making any corrections so they could claim a legislative victory. In the face of those odds we prevailed in forcing the Senate to make one truly important change to the WPEA. That was only possible because thousands of citizen activists responded to the call to pressure Congress to correct this problem with the bill.
However, our work is not done. The Senate has only fixed one of the seven major problems with the bill. If we truly want the WPEA to be a true enhancement and not an illusory reform then additional improvements and changes to the bill are needed.
President Obama promised true reform, and court access for all federal employee whistleblowers, during his campaign and we still expect him to fulfill his promise.