This morning, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) marked up and approved S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). The WPEA has been pending for years. Its expressed purpose is to strengthen protections for whistleblowers. As sponsor Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) explained, if whistleblowers are not protected, many would not take the risk to protect public health and national security. Since the 1994 adoption of the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled in favor of only three whistleblowers out of hundreds of cases. Sen. Akaka decried the failure to interpret the law consistent with its purpose. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) also spoke about the "crucial role" that whistleblowers play.
The mark-up hearing took up less than five (5) minutes of the Committee's one-hour hearing. During the hearing, Sen. Akaka announced that he had an amendment to make three changes that he called "minor." He described the amendments as (1) clarifying provisions on non-disclosure agreements, (2) giving the General Accounting Office (GAO) more time to conduct its review of the legislation, and (3) giving the Defense Department access to information and consultation rights in the intelligence provisions. The amendment, and the bill, were both approved by the Committee unanimously, on voice votes. Unfortunately, the text of the amended bill is not presently available to the public. The normal course of business would make the amendment available at www.thomas.gov, but it is not presently listed in the bill's summary and status page. To see the Committee's hearing on the WPEA, go to the 47th minute of the archived video.
The National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) submitted a letter to HSGAC on September 28, 2011. This letter raised twelve concerns and makes suggestions for how to make the WPEA truly effective in protecting federal employee whistleblowers. The Committee did not adopt the NWC suggestions. For example, the bill still contains a new provision allowing MSPB judges to dismiss whistleblower cases without a hearing.
NWC has also released a report called Detecting Waste, Fraud, and Abuse: Protections Needed for Federal Employees. The report details how whistleblowers save taxpayer funds and protect the public health, the environment and our integrity as a nation. Hopefully, further consideration of this bill by the full Senate and House will lead to the improvements. Federal employees need protections that are effective enough to encourage them to come forward.