On November 17, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) sent a letter to Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) of the House Committee on Rules arguing for the adoption of a rule prohibiting Members of the House of Representatives from disclosing the identity of whistleblowers who fall under the protection of federal whistleblower laws. The rule would make the disclosure of a federal whistleblower’s identity a violation of the House’s Official Code of Conduct.
“Without vigorous oversight that includes encouraging federal employees who see wrongdoing to report it anonymously and without fear of retribution, Congress cannot hold the executive officials, including the president and his appointees, to account or enact laws that serve the people it represents,” Leader Hoyer wrote in the letter. “Members of Congress who would willfully undermine their own institution’s ability to conduct oversight by revealing or threatening to reveal the identities of whistleblowers must face consequences.”
The rule prohibits “a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or officer or employee of the House” from willingly publicly disclosing the “the identity of, or personally identifiable information about” a whistleblower who is protected by federal whistleblower laws. These laws include the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Civil Service Reform Act, and the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act: these three acts effectively cover any federal employee who blows the whistle on misconduct. Individuals found in violation of the proposed rule would be subject to disciplinary measures.
Exceptions to this prohibition of disclosures include instances where the whistleblower “has already voluntarily and publicly disclosed his or her identity” or “provided express written consent to such disclosure.” The final exception is for instances when “the disclosure is by the chair of a committee after an affirmative vote by two-thirds of committee members that such disclosure is in the public interest.”
In the letter, Leader Hoyer urges Chairman McGovern to include the proposed rule in the new House Rules package for the 117th Congress. Leader Hoyer expresses that, while the rule would only apply to the House of Representatives, he hopes the Senate would follow suit with their own similar provision.
Leader Hoyer notes that this rule is inspired by the actions of House Members who threatened to expose the identities of whistleblowers alleging misconduct by the Trump Administration. For example, House Members, as well as President Trump himself, threatened to disclose the identity of the Ukraine whistleblower whose allegations led to the President’s impeachment trial.