By DANA LIEBELSON
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011 (WPEA) passed the Senate yesterday with unanimous bipartisan consent. The bill (S. 743) grants federal workers the protections they need to safely report waste, fraud and abuse. This is fantastic news--in part because taxpayers, who rely on whistleblowers to disclose corruption within the government, are now one step closer towards saving billions of dollars.
But the fight isn’t over yet: now, it’s up to the House to grab the bull by the horns and make this law a reality. The WPEA House companion bill has been stalling since the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform unanimously passed it in November.
“This is a major step forward for this landmark legislation, which my daughter has dubbed the ‘cat bill’ since it seems to have had nine lives.” said POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury.
The WPEA has been very well-vetted and has come close to enactment many times in the decade since Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) first introduced the reform. Both Houses have passed versions of the bill, but have failed to reconcile their legislation. Last year, the legislation was killed on the last day of the 111th Congress after it was inaccurately connected to the WikiLeaks scandal. But 2011 brought renewed support for the bill and POGO and allies are optimistic.
“Since this is now finely-tuned public policy with overwhelming bipartisan support, it looks like this year it will finally become law and replace the ‘paper tiger’ rights currently on the books,” said Canterbury. “It’s high time for federal whistleblowers and taxpayers will get the protections they’ve been promised and they deserve.”
The significance of this bill should not be underestimated. It modernizes the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 by expanding “free speech rights, specifically covering national security and intelligence community workers, federal scientists, and Transportation Security Administration officers. The bill also will strengthen failed procedures, close loopholes, create efficiencies, and affirm lawful disclosures. For the first time, some federal whistleblowers would have a real ‘day in court,’ since the bill provides access to a jury trial in federal district court,” according to a press release by POGO and allies.
Our allies, who have worked incredibly hard to get this bill passed, are the American Federation of Government Employees, the Government Accountability Project, Liberty Coalition, the National Taxpayers Union, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and OpenTheGovernment.org.
To put the bill in real-world terms: it could help prevent scandals like the General Services Administration (GSA) lavish spending binge, help protect important national whistleblowers—like Peter Van Buren and Mike Helms—and encourage would-be whistleblowers to step forward in the public interest.
Additionally, as we’ve pointed out before, the bill has widespread support from both sides of the aisle and is cosponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and 11 others. More than 400 taxpayer, environmental, science, consumer, faith-based, civil rights, and transparency groups have expressed their support, in addition to the more than 50 organizational members of the Make it Safe Coalition (POGO sits on the Steering Committee for the coalition).
Now, as we turn attention to the House, we should make sure that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, upholds his promise to make this bill a law. He said last year: “Getting [whistleblower] rights is important, and it’s something that I was deeply disappointed we didn’t get through in the last Congress…we will get it through this Congress.”
On behalf of the countless federal employees who risk their livelihoods and well-being to stand up for what’s right—we certainly hope so.
Dana Liebelson is POGO’s Beth Daley Impact Fellow.