Today, the North County Times—a paper in Representative Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) district—published an Op-Ed by our allies at National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and Liberty Coalition that makes clear they expect Rep. Issa to fulfill his promise of protections for federal whistleblowers by ensuring those whistleblowers can access the courts to hold the government accountable.
The Senate unanimously passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act or WPEA (S. 743) in May, and now it’s the House’s turn to take action on Rep. Issa’s version of the bill (H.R. 3289). This landmark legislation would provide a better safety net for federal workers who sound the alarm on waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality. The Project On Government Oversight hopes the strongest possible version of the bill will reach the President’s desk this year.
Unfortunately, gaps in protection in the access-to-court provisions remain in the House bill. As Michael Ostrolenk of the Liberty Coalition and Pete Sepp of NTU wrote, “Every private-sector whistleblower protection law passed by Congress in the last decade includes a right to a jury trial and normal appeals process, which the current bill fails to include.” As Chairman of House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Issa should work to pass a bill in the House that includes the standard that has already been established for private sector whistleblowing.
Ostrolenk and Sepp explain why denying federal whistleblowers these basic legal rights would deny taxpayers more accountability from the government:
The current legislation has too many traps for a whistleblower who might pursue such an avenue: bench, not jury trials, a burden of proof that gives the upper hand to the government and makes more difficult than current law for a legitimate whistleblower to prove retaliation, and appeals that would only go to one inside-the-Beltway-court. Instead, whistleblowers must be allowed to appeal in their own districts.
In order to fulfill his promise to make reforms for federal whistleblowers law this year, Rep. Issa must ensure that whistleblowers that risk it all to protect taxpayer dollars aren’t trapped in expensive, kangaroo courts where the government always wins. That’s the status quo. It’s also the case that the stakes are high for taxpayers when the government can endanger health and safety, suppress information about billions in waste, or put our troops in danger without any concern for ever being held accountable.
As Ostrolenk and Sepp pointed out, “The executive branch must not have the last say or the upper hand in deciding whether or not its own political appointees suppressed information of relevance to taxpayers.”
We couldn’t agree more with NTU and Liberty Coalition, and hope that Rep. Issa is listening. It might help that the Liberty Coalition is a network of 89 member organizations deeply interested in the Bill of Rights and that NTU has 362,000 members nationwide (about 52,000 in California alone).
Angela Canterbury is the director of public policy at the Project On Government Oversight. Suzanne Dershowitz is the public policy fellow at the Project On Government Oversight.Follow @SuzieDershowitz