An article posted on Federal Times reports on renewed efforts to enhance whistleblower protections for federal employees. Reporter Elise Castelli quotes a statement by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) that, “It is essential we ensure accountability and transparency in government in order to protect taxpayers.”
As you know, we have been waging an intense campaign for new whistleblower protection laws. We have experienced recent victories and setbacks. And now, prominent whistleblowers like Bunny Greenhouse are calling us all to action. Throughout this campaign, our staff has been incredibly impressed with the level of support shown by our blog readers, facebook users, and all other online grassroots supporters. We have sent thousands of letters to Congress and we are achieving real change!!!
This groundswell of support is driving a national conversation about whistleblower rights, which is evidenced by the fact that the national news media is paying very close attention to these recent developments. Just today, there are two stories in the Washington Post detailing the struggle for whistleblower protections for federal employees, and especially national security whistleblowers. See the links below for the articles.
Back in 2003, Bunny Greenhouse blew the whistle on no bid contracts to Halliburton that were doled out by the Bush Administration in the run-up to the Iraq War. Since then she has suffered her share of hardships, having been harassed and demoted from her position of Chief Contracting Officer for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Ms. Greenhouse realizes though, that the only way for federal employee whistleblowers to have a chance when they blow the whistle on corruption is to have a strong whistleblower law in place --- a law just like the one that Congress cut out of the stimulus bill last week.
Bunny has issued the following letter, which both supports the newly enacted whistleblower protections for state and local government employees, as well as government contractors and grant recipients, but also expresses her deep disappointment at Congress' failure to enact comprehensive federal employee whistleblower protections. She also urges all whistleblower supporters to continue to contact their Congressional Representatives on this issue.
On Wednesday, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, House and Senate leaders hammered out a deal to pass the economic stimulus bill. Both the original House and Senate versions of this bill included protections for employee whistleblowers. By Wednesday evening, news sources such as Talking Points Memo were reporting that the whistleblower provisions in the bill had been cut.
Well, we got our hands on the final text of the bill, and it turns out that whistleblower protections for state, local, and government contractor employees have made the final bill! Unfortunately, the proposed protections for federal employees have been eliminated completely.
This is a partial victory, but a victory nonetheless. Now we must continue to fight for the rights of federal employees. Stephen and Michael Kohn, the President and General Counsel of the National Whistleblowers Center, released the following press statement this morning:
"Private contractors and state and local government employees are covered. They have a right to file a claim and present their case to an independent court and jury. It is now up to Congress to finish the job, and ensure that federal employees have the same rights. It makes no sense to protect some workers who have responsiblity over the stimulus, but to deny protections to the federal regulators who will have the primary duty to police the spending and ensure that there is no political favoritism in the allocation of billions of dollars in taxpayer monies," said Stephen Kohn, the President of the National Whistleblower Center.
"Congress has started to listen," said Michael Kohn, General Counsel of the National Whistleblower Center and attorney for Bunny Greenhouse. "We need to redouble our efforts and obtain universal whistleblower protection coverage for all American workers, including federal government employees," Michael Kohn added. Earlier this week Greenhouse had asked that both the McCakill Amendment and the Platts-Van Hollen Amemdnets be enacted into law. The Senate approved the McCaskill amendents, but cut out the protections for federal employees.
"Senator Clare McCaskill did an incredible job getting these changes into the stimulus. It was a tough and fast paced environment and she was able to ensure strong oversight provisions for some of the workers involved in spending taxpayer monies. She worked in an open an bi-partisan manner and obtained the support from other key Senators, including Independent Senator Liberman and Republican Senator Collins. We hope that the reforms included in the stimulus package will be made permament, will apply to the use of all taxpayer monies and will cover federal workers."
The Senate is preparing to vote on the stimulus package, and we must seize this historic opportunity to obtain whistleblower protection for all federal employees. We’re in the final stages of the fight and taxpayers who demand oversight and accountability are making their voices heard, but we need your help. Now Halliburton whistleblower, Bunny Greenhouse is calling on all Americans to contact Congress and tell your Senators and Representatives to keep whistleblower protection in the final version of the stimulus package.
Bunny’s urgent letter capped off a week of increasing public support for whistleblower protection. Yesterday, the Washington Post published a letter to the editor emphasizing that whistleblower protections are essential for oversight and accountability. Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Patriot News endorsed the whistleblower protection amendment of the stimulus package as a necessity to allow civil servants to report fraud.
I am happy to say that we have received another significant endorsement for federal employee whistleblower protections. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association has issued a statement in support of the Whistleblower provisions passed by the House of Representatives in the Economic Stimulus package last week, and is urging the Senate to pass the bill with the whistleblower provisions intact. Further, FLEOA is calling on President Obama to enact an executive order which would restore the careers of Law Enforcement Officers (including counterterrorism agents) who have had their careers destroyed after blowing the whistle.
Jon Adler, the National President of FLEOA had this to say about the retroactive protections:
"After abiding by their oath to uphold the laws of the Constitution, this small select group of federal law enforcement and counter-terrorism agents suffered unwarranted retaliation due to the ineffective and outdated federal Whistleblower Protection Act currently in effect."
The Washington Independent published an article addressing the lack of protection offered to whistleblowers in the stimulus bill. The article quoted Stephen Kohn, who states: "The biggest defect in the current language in the House and Senate versions, is about blowing the whistle internally." The bill protects only employees that report wrongdoings to Congress or an Inspector General, but does not provide protection to those that make internal reports to their own employers. Protecting taxpayer money with strong oversight and accountability safeguards is of extreme importance, therefore Congress must provide adequate protection for all whistleblowers.
*Thelma Lizama (a NWC intern) contributed to this posting