On October 14, the Washington Post ran a story on Metro drivers going “Strictly by the Book” (p. B-1). The story highlights safety issues that reach beyond Metro. That the Post’s writer would be concerned about the disruption reveals a prevalent but dangerous attitude that speed is more important than safety.
As an advocate for whistleblowers, I am particularly concerned that the bus drivers speaking to the reporter were afraid of retaliation. The National Transit Systems Security Act of 2007 (NTSSA) has given every transit system employee the right to put safety first, to bypass the chain of command, and to disobey unsafe or illegal orders. Under NTSSA, every Metro employee has legal protection if they choose to speak to a newspaper about safety concerns. They would be protected if they follow safety rules and run “late” as a result.
That some Metro employees were afraid to speak shows that this new law is either unpublicized or ineffective. I think it is both. The Post could do a service by explaining that federal laws protect many health and safety whistleblowers. Victims of retaliation need to know that they have only 180 days to file a complaint (some laws allow only 30 days).
Awareness of the law will do no good, however, unless our government does a better job of enforcement. The Department of Labor’s whistleblower program is still run by holdovers from the prior administration. They have used unfounded excuses to deny remedies to whistleblowers. They are bogged down by backlogs, poor training and inadequate resources (as found by the General Accounting Office last January). The new Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, can make a dramatic improvement in the system at any time by appointing new members of the Administrative Review Board.