Yesterday, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (WPEA), S. 743. Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) issued the following statement on this bill:
In December of 2010, the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), the Federal Ethics Center, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition and the No FEAR Coalition, together with nationally respected whistleblowers and thousands of citizen activists, strongly opposed the prior version of the WPEA (S. 372) calling it a “bad deal for whistleblowers.” We laid out seven detailed reasons for why the bill would be detrimental for federal employees and would roll back existing whistleblower protections.
We were strongly criticized for opposing S. 372. We were told that this was the best bill we were going to get and if we did not change our position federal employee whistleblower protections offered in the new Congress would be worse. However, we believed that we were doing what was in the best interest of all federal employee whistleblowers and refused to back down.
Federal employees deserve better and were promised more by President Obama. If the flawed S. 372 had passed in December, all federal employees would have been materially harmed by the roll backs in protections. We had no choice but to stand our ground and it turns out that we were right – changes could be made to improve the bill.
The WPEA was re-introduced yesterday with one of our major concerns fixed. The exception for “minor” and “inadvertent” violations of law in the definition of protection disclosure has now been removed from this latest version of the Senate bill.
We are pleased that the Senate sponsors of the WPEA have agreed with the NWC, the Federal Ethics Center, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition and the No FEAR Coalition, and the thousands of persons who advocated for this important change in the bill from what was proposed in the last Congress.
As a result of this change, if it is passed, federal employees would be protected for disclosing any violation of law. This is a major victory for the thousands of citizen activists who responded to our action alerts last year even though there was intense pressure to pass the bill without making any improvements. Everyone who participated in this advocacy should recognize that his or her voice can make a difference.
We appreciate and thank Senator Akaka and the co-sponsors of the WPEA for making this change. However, we still believe that other important changes are needed to ensure that this bill does not harm existing rights and that it provides effective and workable protections for federal employee whistleblowers and, ultimately, the U.S. taxpayers.
The legal staff of the National Whistleblowers Center is carefully reviewing S. 743. As we said in December, this is an important piece of legislation that will intimately affect federal employees for a generation and it is critical that it be done right. While some progress has been made to improve the legislation over last year’s version, other concerns we raised about last year’s bill remain unaddressed by S. 743. For example, the Senate’s new WPEA bill still provides the Merit Systems Protection Board with sweeping new powers to dismiss whistleblower cases without a hearing and to act as gatekeeper for court access.
We look forward to working with the House and Senate to address our other concerns with this legislation.
NWC Letter to House and Senate Sponsors of WPEA (December 13, 2010) on the roll back in the definition of protected disclosure
Joint Statement – S. 372: A Bad Deal for Whistleblowers
Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (S. 743)