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Join us! We need every citizen, and every citizen group in favor of transparent government to email us, and join 112 coalitions determined to implement sweeping Whistleblower protection.
Last month the trans-ideological Make It Safe Coalition (MISC) of 112 citizen organizations stood in solidarity with whistleblowers, the public's eyes and ears. MISC urged Congress to complete an eight year effort to revive the discredited Whistleblower Protection Act. (WPA). In 1978, 1989, and 1994 Congress unanimously passed this foundation good government law.
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The dittos are because in practice the law hasn't been worth the paper it's written on. For example, whistleblowers' only “day in court” to enforce rights is a minor league administrative hearing at the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which only has found illegal retaliation twice during the Bush administration.
Voter's agree: whistleblowers are essential to the public interest, good government, and the fight to end corruption.
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Voters expect more. In a post 2006 election survey of likely voters, strengthening whistleblower rights was the second highest priority, picked by 79%, second only to 81% for ending illegal government spending. At first Congress seemed to listen. In March 2007 the House promptly passed a “best practices” law. In December the Senate followed suit. But the end game has stalled. Time is running out, particularly to overturn a promised veto.
Reportedly the gridlock is because Senate leaders fear key, tougher House provisions could spark holds or filibusters there is no time to defeat. But six months of delays are making that a self-fulfilling excuse. MISC told Senate leaders that after thirty years of “safe” bills with strong rights but weak enforcement teeth, it is time to fight whatever battles are necessary for three House provisions:
*Normal court access. The hopelessly surreal MSPB record makes the facts of life unavoidable: whistleblower paper rights are a mirage without jury trials for a genuine day in court. It would be bad public policy to take the broken record approach -- a fourth generation WPA without normal court access. Workers at publicly-traded corporation have had the right to a jury trial since passage of the 2002 Sarbanes Oxley law, and three times since 2006 the Senate has provided jury trials -- for all ground transportation, defense contractor, and retail products employees. There is no excuse to give government workers second class rights to defend themselves when they defend the public.
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*FBI and Intelligence Agencies. The FBI's track record of one whistleblower victory in 30 years makes it clear that a 1978 “separate but equal” system of in-house review will not work either. There are no victories since 1998 for analogous intelligence agency “protections.” Especially since 9/11, these whistleblowers are freedom's first line of defense both against outside threats like terrorists; and internal threats like illegal government domestic surveillance. But they are still in the cold, without independently-enforced rights when challenging bureaucratic abuses sustained by secrecy. The House bill does not protect public disclosures, rather creating safe channels to solve the 9/11 Commission's primary explanation for the tragedy: communications bottlenecks blocking the flow of vital information within agencies and to Congress.
* Scientific freedom. These whistleblowers have more impact on public safety than any other government function. Far more Americans have perished from drugs officially labeled safe by our government, than from enemy fire in the Vietnam and Iraq wars combined. The greatest threat facing the planet is global warming, but for six years top climate change scientists were gagged and censored while works published under their names were rewritten by energy industry lobbyists. For matters beyond principle, there simply is no whistleblower topic with higher stakes.
The public can and will make the difference. If politicians think voters no longer care, they will avoid risks and run out the clock or pass another bill with second class enforcement. But if voters reaffirm their post-2006 election priority, it could go to the President by the end of the month. No prior government or corporate whistleblower law needed more than a month to reconcile House-Senate differences for consensus rights.
Readers should Google their Senators' emails, and write insisting that each personally urge Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senators Lieberman and Collins on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to finish work on this reform. And to reserve floor time against filibusters and vetoes risked by finally doing it right. That means giving all taxpayer-financed workers access to jury trials to fight retaliation - just as it has done three times this Congress for corporate workers. Tell them you won't accept any less. Government workers defending America's families need first class rights at much as corporate workers defending America's investments.
Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project. Shanna Devine also works at the Government Accountability Project. For more information on how to help, visit the legislative page of GAP's website at www.whistleblower.org or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked since January 1979. GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest organization that champions the rights of whistleblowers, employees who exercise freedom of speech to challenge abuses of power that betray the public trust. During his 27 years at GAP he has represented or informally helped more than 4,000 whistleblowers to make a difference, such as by stopping nuclear power plants that were accidents waiting to happen and blocking deregulation of meat inspection. He has been a leader in the campaigns to pass or defend nearly all major national or international whistleblower laws, from the breakthrough right to jury trials for corporate whistleblowers in the Sarbanes-Oxley law, to the December 2005 U.N. policy legalizing public freedom of expression for its own whistleblowers. Devine has authored or co-authored numerous law review articles and books. The second edition of his lessons-learned manual, Courage Without Martyrdom: The Whistleblower's Survival Guide, will be published after a hoped-for victory in the campaign to restore credible rights for federal employees under the Whistleblower Protection Act.