On April 1, Whistleblower Network News (WNN), along with 264 advocacy organizations, sent a letter to President Biden and four members of Congress calling for increased protections for whistleblowers.
The letter is addressed to President Biden, as well as Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
In the letter, the organizations, which include the National Whistleblower Center, the Government Accountability Project (GAP), and Human Rights Watch, call on U.S. government leaders to improve whistleblower protections. The letter cites a September 2020 Marist poll commissioned by WNN: the poll showed that 86% of likely voters in the U.S. believe that there should be stronger whistleblower protections for government employees. The poll also found that 81% of likely voters think Congress should make strengthening whistleblower laws a priority. “Truth shared by whistleblowers fuels oversight mechanisms by shining a light on existing weaknesses, inefficiencies, and injustices,” the letter states. “We must protect those who courageously speak out about abuses of public trust that undermine our nation’s safety and security and threaten our democracy.”
The letter mentions past whistleblower protection laws like the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. It points out that both of these acts, as well as “over 50 scattered corporate laws,” are lacking in protection whistleblowers and mention the chilling effect that a lack of whistleblower protections could have for other individuals who might want to blow the whistle. The letter also notes that the COVID relief stimulus package of nearly $3 trillion “did not add whistleblowing protections to the law, either to challenge misspending or misconduct threatening public health.”
Additionally, the letter states that “our laws do not protect law enforcement officers whose testimony is indispensable for catching violations of law and abuses of power.” It also mentions that “congressional witnesses experienced dangerous retaliation last year,” but there are no enforcement provisions in the laws “banning reprisal for congressional communications.”
WNN and the 264 organizations urge Congress to implement best practices whistleblower protection laws “for the integrity of pandemic relief legislation along with all other public health work; for honest law enforcement officers challenging police abuses of power, and for all congressional witnesses.” The letter spells out the following elements that U.S. law should include:
- “Grant employees the right to a jury trial in federal court;
- Give whistleblowers the right to challenge retaliatory investigations;
- Extend temporary relief to whistleblowers whenever they prove a prima facie case of retaliation; and
- Extend whistleblower rights beyond protection from workplace retaliation, and like the European Union, give whistleblowers a legal defense against civil or criminal liability.”
“Whistleblower protection is a foundation for the rule of law,” the letter concludes. “We need conscientious public servants willing and able to call attention to waste, fraud, and abuse on behalf of the taxpayers. America needs your leadership to provide safeguards to courageous whistleblowers for accountability and the protection of democracy.” The letter urges the recipients to reform the Whistleblower Protection Act and enact “the key provision described above where rights are nonexistent.”
In a press release from GAP, the organization’s Legal Director Tom Devine commented on the letter. “The public mandate for stronger whistleblower rights is overwhelming…America’s pioneering whistleblower laws have become dinosaur rights compared to laws globally.” Devine mentions that U.S. whistleblower laws “do not compare” to laws passed in the 2019 European Union whistleblower directive. “Unlike nearly all others in the labor force, federal whistleblowers cannot seek justice in court from a jury. Congress needs to listen to the voters, now.”