Panel backs whistleblower rights for Defense contractors

A Senate panel last week approved a provision that would enhance whistleblower protections for Defense Department contract employees who report potential waste, fraud or abuse.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed the language as an amendment to the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization bill, during a closed markup session that ended Thursday.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would provide a jury trial in federal court for company employees who are subject to retaliation for exposing possible misconduct in Defense contracts. Contract employees could pursue the trial if they failed to receive an administrative ruling from the Defense secretary within 90 days of bringing a reprisal allegation to an inspector general.

"Jury trials for cases of whistleblower retaliation are a whistleblower's only genuine opportunity for a fair day in court -- with justice decided by the taxpayers the employee is trying to defend," said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based advocacy group.

According to a statement from McCaskill's office, the amendment is a result of recent oversight hearings that identified loopholes in the law that end up denying federal contract workers the same whistleblower rights as those granted federal employees.

"Employees of private contractors in Iraq have witnessed all kinds of fraud, waste and abuse," McCaskill said in a statement. "They desperately need stronger whistleblower protection so they can help us stop the incredible waste of taxpayer dollars."

The provision would expand the definition of the information that can be revealed by a contract employee, protecting any disclosure that the employee "reasonably believes" is evidence of gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds or a substantial danger to public health or safety.

The language also would require that employees working on contracts worth more than $5 million be notified of their rights and protections. It would make the Defense Department hold contractors accountable for protecting employees by withholding award payments from companies that retaliate against whistleblowers.

The whistleblower provisions, however, are not included in the House version of the authorization bill, approved May 17. The Senate version, should it clear the floor, would be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to reconcile differences.

But according to Adam Miles, legislative representative for GAP, the House is likely to support the whistleblower provisions in the Senate bill. The House passed similar protections for contract employees in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 985) in March by a 331-94 vote, he noted.

"The McCaskill amendment provides a precedent for Senate support of similar reforms passed already in the House this year -- with a veto-proof majority," Miles said.

The House legislation seeks to reform the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act, which, since 1994, has been weakened by a series of rulings in the Federal Circuit Court. The bill would restore what many advocacy groups consider Congress' original intent, by protecting federal employees and contractors at all agencies who disclose wrongdoing in the performance of official duties, "without restriction to time, place, form, motive or context."

But the Bush administration has argued that expanding whistleblower protections could increase the number of frivolous complaints and compromise national security. The president has threatened to veto the House bill on the grounds that it would authorize any employee to make a classified disclosure to members of Congress.

Still, Miles argued that because McCaskill's amendment does not authorize contractors to make such disclosures to Congress, it likely would not draw a veto threat from President Bush.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.