Last week the Senate passed important legislation that increases protections for whistleblowers. The three bills protect whistleblowers who report information to inspector generals’ offices, extends whistleblower protections to employees of government subcontractors, and allows FBI employees to now report wrongdoing to their direct supervisors.
On December 5, S. 795 An Act to enhance whistleblower protection for contractor and grantee employees passed the Senate. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill, will extend and make permanent current whistleblower protections to nearly all federal government grantees, subgrantees, contractors and subcontractors, as well as prohibit contractors from being reimbursed for legal fees accrued in their defense against retaliation claims by whistleblowers.
Currently, whistleblower protections apply only to contractors, grant recipients, subcontractors, but not to employees of subgrantees, even though the federal government distributes billions in grant funding each year, much of which gets passed through to other organizations. McCaskill’s legislation also makes permanent existing civilian contractor and grantee whistleblower protections, which are currently set to expire next year.
“We’ve got an enormous contracting workforce in the federal government, and we’ve got to make sure that all of our contractors have the same whistleblower protections as the government employees they work alongside—because these folks are the ones raising the alarm on waste, fraud, and abuse of power,” said Senator McCaskill.
The Senate passed H.R. 6450 Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016 on December 10. This legislation was co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley and will expand tools for inspectors general to identify and address fraud, waste and misconduct in government. The Act restores Congress’ intent to guarantee inspectors general access to “all records” of the agencies they oversee, overturning a 2015 Obama administration legal memo roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. The House of Representatives passed identical legislation earlier this week. The bill must now be signed by the President before becoming law.
“If we’ve learned one thing in the last year, it’s that government needs more transparency and oversight, not less. Inspectors general are our eyes and ears in government. They are on the front lines in the fight against fraud, waste and misconduct, but they can’t do their job if they can’t access the necessary government documents. This bill makes sure that they have the tools and access they need to safeguard our tax dollars, improve efficiency, and tackle misconduct,” Grassley said.
Grassley, a long-time whistleblower advocate, also pushed for the passage of a comprehensive reform bill for FBI whistleblowers. However, a modified version, H.R.5790 – Federal Bureau of Investigation Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2016, was passed on December 10. The modified bill contains an important improvement for FBI Employees as it allows them to report wrongdoing to their direct supervisors. Currently, FBI employees are not protected when they disclose wrongdoing to their supervisors. Instead, Justice Department regulations require disclosures to be made to a limited group of senior officials even though FBI policy encourages employees to report to supervisors. Thus, FBI whistleblowers often make their initial disclosure to a supervisor, but have no legal protection in the event of retaliation.
“The protections in this bill ensure a logical reporting requirement which allows more cases to be heard on the merits instead of being senselessly dismissed because an FBI employee logically reported wrongdoing to their supervisor,” Grassley said.
Senator Grassley stated that he will pursue the remaining provisions of the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in the next Congress.
“While it is disappointing that the entire FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act could not pass this year, we are thankful that Congress could unanimously pass this truncated version that clarifies what is ‘protected’ whistleblowing at the FBI,” said Stephen M. Kohn, a partner in the Washington, D.C. based whistleblower advocacy firm Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP. “This is an important step to protect whistleblowers and increase accountability at the FBI—one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world,” Kohn added.
All three bills are awaiting the President’s signature.
Read the text of these bills here: