By SUZANNE DERSHOWITZ
The Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG) recently validated a contractor whistleblower reprisal for the first time in six years. The IG was able to side with the whistleblower in this special case because the complaint was related to a defense contract involving American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. The Recovery Act has excellent protections for employees who face retaliation after blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse related to stimulus funds.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for other federal contractors and grantee whistleblowers. Some defense contractors have limited protections, but they are not sufficient. The DoD IG told POGO, "With respect to recent 2409 cases, one was substantiated in 2006. Our records indicate the agency resolution of that case included a payment to the complainant of $25,000." The fact that there hasn’t been a substantiated claim of retaliation in six years (see exhibit on pg. 12) is strong evidence that defense contractor employees face far too much risk when they blow the whistle.
According to the latest DoD IG’s semiannual report to Congress, the complainant in this case was fired for repeatedly disclosing information to government officials—information he reasonably believed was evidence of a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a defense contract involving ARRA funds. The employee was retaliated against for blowing the whistle, and the law allowed for the IG to rightly substantiate the reprisal. The June DoD IG newsletter says the government ordered the contractor to reimburse the complainant nearly $60,000 in back-pay.
This company forced employees to sign a statement promising never to disclose certain issues to the government and to only raise such issues internally. However, the rights covered under ARRA’s whistleblower protections may not be swept aside by any agreement, policy, or condition of employment. Other existing DoD contractor whistleblower protections lack that key provision, but the reforms proposed in the Non-Federal Employee Whistleblower Protection Act of 2011 (S.241) and Sec. 844 in the National Defense Authorization Act (S.3254) passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month do contain that provision.
The ARRA protections should be the standard not the exception so that contractor whistleblowers aren’t left high and dry without sufficient safeguards. As POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury testified last December before the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, “the accountability loopholes are many in the patchwork of laws that protect only some contractors and federal fund recipient employees who blow the whistle, and only under very limited circumstances.” She went on to say that the Recovery Act is a model of excellent whistleblower protections for contractors—it just needs to be extended beyond its original scope.
Expanding whistleblower protections so that all government contractors feel free to come forward when they witness waste, fraud, and abuse in federal spending would save money and increase accountability. With the federal deficit growing and the economy still shaky, it’s only logical to provide the strongest support for those who safeguard taxpayer dollars and the public interest.
Suzanne Dershowitz is a POGO public policy fellow