After a Campaign Waged Over More Than a Decade, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act Becomes Law
President Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA, S. 743) into law today, marking the finale of a more than decade-long campaign by the Make It Safe Coalition to restore and modernize federal whistleblower protections. The President's unwavering support of the WPEA, paired with Congress' sweeping endorsement by unanimous consent, demonstrates the strong mandate for a new day of accountability in the federal government. These reforms expand protections for federal employees who disclose wrongdoing and protect the public trust.
Whistleblower advocates from organizations with diverse interests and ideologies who together waged a historic campaign for this landmark government accountability reform are enthusiastic about this victory for whistleblowers and taxpayers:
Beth Moten, Legislative Director for American Federation of Government Employees, commented: "AFGE applauds the bipartisan, collaborative work of members of Congress, a diverse coalition of worker advocates and good government groups, and the Obama Administration resulting in the bill signed into law today. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act provides many of the changes in law necessary to protect federal workers when they come forward to report fraud, waste, and wrongdoing in the workplace and to hold managers accountable when they retaliate. AFGE is especially pleased that the law applies to Transportation Security Officers, the federal workers dedicated to the safety of the flying public, and provides them with the same whistleblower protections as other federal workers."
Tom Devine, Legal Director of Government Accountability Project, commented: "This reform took 13 years to pass, because it can make so much difference against fraud, waste and abuse. Over the years, earlier versions of this law had been called the Taxpayer Protection Act. Nothing could set a better context for fiscal cliff negotiations than a unanimous, bipartisan consensus to protect those who risk their careers to protect the taxpayers. The mandate for this law is that the truth is the public's business. The victory reflects strong bipartisan teamwork, as well as advocacy within the party, as Republicans often had to work harder at convincing wary colleagues. And it reflects relentless pressure from conservative stakeholders to whistleblowers and their champions throughout the last 13 years. Unique support came from President Obama, who was committed from day one of his term to signing this bill into law. Most Presidents have offered lip service for whistleblower rights, but President Obama fought to give them more teeth."
Michael D. Ostrolenk, National Director of Liberty Coalition, commented: "With a lack of cooperation as a starting point in our present day political system, it's good to see a positive bi-partisan effort come to fruition. One cheer for President Obama, the Republican held House, and Democrat controlled Senate, and two cheers for the American people."
Pete Sepp, Executive Vice President of National Taxpayers Union, commented: "Today an important chapter in the struggle to recognize whistleblowers for the tremendous service they provide taxpayers has been concluded. This bipartisan effort is proof positive that fiscal responsibility can be restored to Washington, one step at a time. We look forward to helping write the next chapter in the vital national conversation over how best to make government more efficient and accountable."
Colleen M. Kelley, National President of National Treasury Employees Union, commented: "This bi-partisan effort represents a big step forward in restoring and modernizing whistleblower rights for federal workers. For example, it creates specific legal protection for scientific freedom, providing whistleblower protection rights to employees who challenge censorship, and makes it an abuse of authority to punish disclosures about scientific censorship. By protecting those who speak out, this law increases accountability and transparency in government."
Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), commented: "Today marks a tremendous victory for a historic campaign for more government accountability. The reforms signed into law today will go a long way to change the fact that for far too long the truth about government wrongdoing could easily be suppressed through intimidation and retaliation against the truthtellers. Federal workers will now have a fighting chance at justice when they face retaliation for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, and other illegalities. Americans should be encouraged by this law's passage--it demonstrates extraordinary support for a better government that transcends the partisanship that so often characterizes Washington today. Today, the public's trust, health, and safety were put before politics."
Keith Wrightson, Worker Safety and Health Advocate for Public Citizen's Congress Watch, commented: "President Obama and the 112th Congress have made a significant contribution to how civil employees will be treated when they identify workplace hazards. Civil employees can now live without fear of retaliation from their supervisors when disclosures are made."
David Williams, President of Taxpayers Protection Alliance, commented: "This is a historic day for whistleblowers and taxpayers as the President signs the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. Bi-partisan common sense prevailed and the country is one step closer to being a government of the people, by the people, for the people."
Celia Wexler, Senior Washington Representative, Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists, commented: "At a time when science seems to be routinely under attack in Congress, this legislative success is a breath of fresh air and a reminder that bipartisan cooperation is still possible. Passage of this bill will help American families, who depend on federal agencies to protect them from unsafe drugs, defective consumer products, hazardous workplaces, and polluted air and water. But it also strongly supports the role of independent science as the foundation for federal policymaking. It sends a strong signal that federal scientists deserve respect."
The WPEA includes critically important upgrades to the broken system for federal whistleblowing to better serve taxpayers. Though it does not include every reform that we have sought and will continue to seek, the bill will restore and modernize government whistleblower rights by ensuring that legitimate disclosures of wrongdoing will be protected, increasing government accountability to taxpayers, and saving billions of taxpayer dollars by helping expose fraud, waste and abuse. Overall, the WPEA's provisions will restore free speech rights closed through arbitrary loopholes and create new protections for federal scientists and Transportation Security Administration officers. The bill also will strengthen due process rights, such as a two-year experiment in normal access to appeals courts (effectively breaking the Federal Circuit's monopoly on appellate review); provide compensatory damages; create whistleblower ombudsmen at Inspectors General offices; and strengthen authority by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to help whistleblowers through disciplinary actions against those who retaliate and to file briefs in court supportive of whistleblower rights.
This hard fought victory could not have been achieved without the steadfast support of whistleblowers, advocates and nongovernmental organizations alike, who demonstrated a marathon commitment to the restoration of federal whistleblower protections throughout this more than a decade-long campaign. Congressional champions and their staff deserve praise and appreciation, especially retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.), as well as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Carl Levin (D-Mi.), and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), Todd Platts (R-Pa.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). A full list of Congressional sponsors can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/TqyJCe. We cannot thank the whistleblower community and these Congressional offices enough for their resolute commitment to the WPEA.
A menu of key reforms can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/PwafFC
The bill can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/UDaepU