On Thursday the House Oversight Committee marked up the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. Similar bills have been passed during the past few sessions of Congress but never signed into law. Each new session of Congress brings a new start to the process.
Important language from past versions of the bill has been removed during this session, undoing significant progress for whistleblower protections. Specifically, the House of Representatives bill (H.R. 3289) in its current form would:
- Cut out the right to a jury trial for federal employees.
- Empower the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to summarily dismiss whistleblower cases.
- Block whistleblowers from access to more “liberal” U.S. Courts of Appeal (such as the 9th Circuit). Instead, the government would be able to force their cases into a special court.
During the markup, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), pictured right, proposed restoring language that would provide federal employees with a right to trial by jury.
“It gives either party to a proceeding the right to request a trial by jury,” explained Rep. Braley. “Because it’s been endorsed by whistleblower advocacy groups and because it is such a central right embedded in our nations history, it seems right to restore this language to the bill.”
Chairman Darrel E. Issa (R-Calif.) responded by stating, “There are serious concerns about expanding … access to our federal court system.” Ironically enough, in the past he voted in favor of a bill that includes jury trials for federal employees. Twice.
Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) argued that he has yet to hear one good reason to depart from the tradition of a jury trial. In his opinion, “It makes legal and common sense to extend this protection to federal workers.”
You can encourage your Representative to support jury trials for federal employees by Taking Action.
*Kim Le contributed to this post.