Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act, a bill to strengthen protections for congressional whistleblowers who share information about fraud, waste and abuse with Congress.
The Lloyd-La Follette Act was enacted in 1912 to give federal employees an absolute right to communicate with Congress. However, the law does not adequately protect them when they do. As a result, individuals who share vital information with Congress can be fired or otherwise retaliated against with impunity.
“Congressional whistleblowers safeguard our democracy by reporting fraud, waste and abuse,” said Senator Feinstein. “Retaliation against them, including threatening their jobs or safety, has a chilling effect that threatens the ability of Congress to conduct oversight. Our bill would strengthen protections for congressional whistleblowers by allowing them to seek relief in the courts if existing processes fail to protect them.”
The Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act would:
- Ensure that all federal employees, contractors and applicants can file an administrative complaint if their right to share information with Congress has been “interfered with or denied.”
- Allow whistleblowers to pursue a lawsuit in federal court if they haven’t received a favorable decision within 210 days of filing an administrative complaint.
- Guarantee that a lawsuit will be heard by a jury and that the individual can seek relief, including through lost wages and benefits; reinstatement; costs and attorney fees; compensatory damages; equitable or injunctive relief; or any other relief the court considers appropriate.
The bill is cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
The bill is supported by the Government Accountability Project, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, National Security Counselors, National Whistleblower Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Union of Concerned Scientists and Whistleblowers of America.
“Creating safe whistleblowing channels can be the difference between whether Congress sees only the tips or uncovers the icebergs as it investigates wrongdoing within the federal government,” said Irvin McCullough, deputy director of legislation, Government Accountability Project. “This bill establishes best practice and much-needed enforcement mechanisms for those truth-tellers who spotlight waste, fraud, abuse and other wrongdoing to the legislative branch.”
“Whistleblowers need to be able to communicate directly with Congress without fear of retaliation,” said Melissa Wasser, policy counsel, Project On Government Oversight. “When whistleblowers come to Congress with vital information, they need better protections and a means to seek relief if they are retaliated against for exercising their rights. POGO thanks Senator Feinstein and her team for their continued commitment to protect whistleblowers coming forward, which contributes to strengthened congressional oversight. This bill ensures and recognizes the invaluable role that whistleblowers play in the fight against corruption.”
“Congressional oversight is essential to ensuring an effective government, a government functioning as it should,” said Juley Fulcher, Public Citizen. “It is the duty of federal workers to report government wrongdoing to Congress. We thank Senator Feinstein for her leadership on this bill to ensure these workers would be safeguarded against retaliation should they blow the whistle on waste, fraud or abuse.”
“For Congress to have truly independent oversight of areas as important as national security, public health, and law enforcement, federal employees must be able to blow the whistle to Congress knowing that their disclosures will not result in retaliation – and that if they do, there is adequate recourse in the courts if all else fails,” said Kel McClanahan, executive director, National Security Counselors. “This bill fixes a longstanding problem by ensuring these whistleblowers are protected when they need it most so that they can continue to play the vital oversight role that Congress needs, more so now than ever.”