September 27, 2017

Senators Introduce Bill to Make Protections Work Better for Whistleblowers

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and the leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), have introduced a bill empowering whistleblower protection coordinators in federal inspector general offices to better support their respective whistleblower programs.
 
The legislation, called the Whistleblower Protection Coordination Act, will permanently extend the program requiring a dedicated official in each inspector general office focused on whistleblower protection issues. The bill changes the title of these officials from ombudsman to “Whistleblower Protection Coordinator” so that potential whistleblowers better understand the role of this position and authorizes them to more actively promote and protect whistleblowing to employees in their agency. Under this new bill, the coordinators will be tasked with assisting inspectors general in productive communications with other stakeholders, like the Office of Special Counsel and Congress. They will also be able to better help the inspectors general strengthen their own roles in investigating reprisal and whistleblower disclosures. The legislation also requires additional reporting to Congress on actual steps taken to hold accountable those who retaliate against whistleblowers.
 
“It’s not always easy to figure out how to disclose waste, fraud or abuse in government when there are so many different rules governing different agencies. Empowering these Inspector General officials across the federal government will give whistleblowers a clear, confidential resource to make sure they are informed and equipped to lawfully carry out their patriotic duty to shine a light on inefficiencies or misconduct in government,” Chairman Grassley said.
 
“Whistleblowers are an essential part of uncovering waste, fraud and abuses of power,” Sen. Wyden said. “This bill gives the government’s independent watchdogs—the inspectors general—the authority to help whistleblowers so these brave individuals can continue to speak out about wrongdoing in all levels of government.”
 
“Whistleblower allegations must be swiftly and efficiently investigated, and whistleblowers need to be informed and treated fairly during this process. I am hopeful this bill will facilitate greater coordination between investigative agencies to ensure whistleblower allegations are thoroughly examined and that whistleblowers are adequately protected,” Chairman Johnson said.
 
“From identifying unnecessary spending of taxpayer dollars to revealing problems with how the VA is serving veterans, whistleblowers are often the first to alert us to issues we need to fix,” Ranking Member McCaskill said. “I’m glad to join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure that all potential whistleblowers have someone to go to with questions and to know their rights—making it more likely they’ll come forward to expose waste, fraud, and abuse.”
 
Representative Rod Blum (R-Iowa) has worked closely with the Senate sponsors of this legislation and will introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
 
“As Co-Chair of the House Whistleblower Caucus and as the original sponsor of H.R. 69, the Thoroughly Investigating Retaliation Against Whistleblowers Act, I am proud to continue leading the charge to protect whistleblowers by introducing a House companion bill to the new Senate legislation. The Whistleblower Ombudsman program provides the information necessary to ensure our federal employees are educated on their rights during the process of reporting waste, fraud, and abuse, and is critical to achieving greater transparency and efficiency in federal agencies,” Rep. Blum said.
 
The whistleblower ombudsman position was created under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 and was originally designed to give agency employees a confidential outlet to receive information on how to lawfully disclose wrongdoing or waste in the federal government.
 
Grassley has long advocated on behalf of whistleblowers and their patriotic efforts to root out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government. He and Wyden co-founded and currently lead the bipartisan Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus to further give voice to whistleblowers in Congress. Senators Johnson and McCaskill are also founding members of the caucus.
 
Earlier this year, Grassley, Johnson and McCaskill led the charge to reauthorize the Office of Special Counsel, the independent agency that investigates and prosecutes cases for whistleblowers, protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices.
 
Full text of the legislation can be found here.
 
-30-