August 06, 2020

Feinstein Introduces Bill to Protect Congressional Whistleblowers from Retaliation

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act, a bill to strengthen protections for federal whistleblowers who share valuable information with Congress.

Recent efforts to undermine existing whistleblowing processes – including firing inspectors general for investigating misconduct by Trump administration officials – have increased the need for whistleblowers to be able to communicate directly with Congress without fear of retaliation.

While the Lloyd-La Follette Act gives federal employees an absolute right to communicate with Congress, current law does not adequately protect them when they do. As a result, individuals who share vital information with Congress can be fired or otherwise retaliated against with impunity.

“Congressional whistleblowers who report misconduct are critical to the proper functioning of our democracy,” said Senator Feinstein. “Attempts to retaliate against whistleblowers, including threatening their jobs or their safety, discourages future disclosures, which are vital to Congress’ ability to conduct oversight and uncover waste, fraud and abuse. Our bill would strengthen protections for congressional whistleblowers by allowing them to seek relief in the courts if existing executive branch processes fail to shield them from retaliation.”The Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act would:

  • Ensure that all federal employees, contractors and applicants can file an administrative complaint if their right to share information with Congress has been “interfered with or denied.”

  • Allow whistleblowers to pursue a lawsuit in federal court if they haven’t received a favorable decision within 210 days of filing an administrative complaint.

Guarantee that a lawsuit will be heard by a jury and that the individual can seek a range of relief, including lost wages and benefits; reinstatement; costs and attorney fees; compensatory damages; equitable or injunctive relief; or any other relief that the court considers appropriate.

“The free flow of information to Congress is the Constitution’s lifeblood for checks and balances against executive branch abuses of power,” said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project. “Over 100 years ago in the Lloyd-La Follette Act, Congress legislatively recognized this first principle of democracy. The Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act will put long-overdue teeth in the Lloyd-La Follette Act – at a time when this principle could not be more important.”

“Creating clear channels for disclosures is only half the battle when it comes to whistleblower protections,” said Rebecca Jones, policy counsel for the Project On Government Oversight. “POGO thanks Ranking Member Feinstein and her team for helping to ensure that when whistleblowers come to Congress with vital information, they also have a means to seek relief if they are retaliated against for exercising their rights. Without established channels for disclosures and a means to enforce the right to speak, we ask whistleblowers to risk their own livelihood for our benefit.”

“A free government of the people can only be trustworthy and effective with transparency,” said Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate for the Public Citizen. “Congressional oversight, by design, is the way we know the government is functioning as it should. Federal workers have both the right and duty to report government wrongdoing to Congress. We thank Senator Feinstein for her leadership on this bill to ensure they will be protected from retaliation when they do so.”

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

The bill is endorsed by the Government Accountability Project, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Liberty Coalition, National Security Counselors, National Whistleblower Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Union of Concerned Scientists and Whistleblowers of America.

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