Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act to the 1st session of the 117th Congress on February 4, 2021. The Act is updated from H.R. 7227, a bill that Rep. Speier introduced to the 116th Congress on June 15, 2020, alongside then-Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Raskin.
The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act is designed to protect whistleblowers who disclose fraud and misuse of government funds issued as relief for the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill specifically strengthens anti-retaliation protections for employees and former employees of recipients of COVID-19 relief funds. Whistleblowers will be able to file anti-retaliation claims confidentially, have access to jury trials in federal court, and obtain compensatory and exemplary damages.
Under the bill, employees cannot be retaliated against for “disclosing, being perceived as disclosing, or preparing to disclose… information that the protected individual reasonably believes is evidence of misconduct that violates, obstructs, or undermines any statute, rule, or regulation with respect to any Coronavirus pandemic-related program, project, or activity.” This covers gross waste of COVID relief funds, abuses of authority in allocating relief funds, and gross mismanagement of a government contract relating to relief funds.
Whistleblower advocates were supportive of H.R. 7227, with a coalition of over 50 organizations sending a letter of approval to House and Senate leadership. Whistleblower attorney and Chairman of the Board of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) Stephen M. Kohn said at the time that the bill was a “major step forward” and approved of some of the “best practices” that H.R. 7227 affirmed. According to Rep. Speier’s press release, the newly introduced COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act is also endorsed by several organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Project on Government Oversight, and the NWC.
“Whistleblowers are our moral compass & save American taxpayers billions of $$ each year,” Rep. Speier tweeted on February 4, 2021 of the new version of the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act. “We must always protect them, but especially during the pandemic. My bill will ensure those who report wrongdoing related to the pandemic can do so knowing the law is on their side.”
“As our government and communities work together to tackle COVID-19, the American people must have confidence that federal relief dollars serve their intended purposes and don’t fall into the hands of profiteers,” said Sen. Warren in the press release. “That is why I am glad to reintroduce the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act—to establish strong whistleblower protections for workers who speak up and help us root out waste, fraud, and abuse.”
Sen. Raskin agreed, stating: “We cannot afford to have these precious relief dollars swept up by scammers, conmen and cheats. We must give real protection to whistleblowers who are brave enough to speak out when they see our tax dollars being misused or stolen.”
Senators Baldwin (D-WI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Brown (D-OH), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Hirono (D-HI), Klobuchar (D-MN), Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Sanders (I-VT), Smith (D-MN), Van Hollen (D-MD), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Wyden (D-OR) all cosponsored this legislation in the Senate. In the House, Representatives Beatty (OH-03), Carson (IN-07), Cohen (TN-09), Davis (IL-07), Demings (FL-10), DeSaulnier (CA-11), Grijalva (AZ-03), Hastings (FL-20), Hayes (CT-05), Jackson Lee (TX-18), Jayapal (WA-07), Jones (NY-17), Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), Lynch (MA-08), Maloney (NY-12), Norton (DC-At large), Phillips (MN-03), Rice (NY-04), Thompson (MS-02), and Tlaib (MI-13) cosponsored the bill.