Whistleblower protection bill gains Senate panel’s approval

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a measure Wednesday aimed at strengthening federal employee whistleblower protections.

The legislation (S. 274), approved by voice vote, would clarify language in the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act to state that whistleblowers are protected by law for any disclosure regardless of whether it is made as part of an employee's job duties, whether it is made orally or written, and whether it is made to someone inside or outside an agency - including to members and staff of Congress with proper security clearances. The bill also states that the court should not consider the time, place, or motive of the disclosure when considering whistleblower cases.

Bill sponsor Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has said that the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly defined whistleblower statutes too narrowly and that he believes this legislation will clarify the intent of the law. The bill would also take whistleblower cases out of the sole jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals for five years.

"Strengthening whistleblower protections is not simply an employee protection issue, it is good government," Akaka said. "If federal employees fear reprisal for reporting fraud and abuse, taxpayers and national security suffer."

The bill would also protect employees against retaliatory investigations and ensure that threat of revoking whistleblowers' security clearances - essential for national security workers - would not be used as leverage to punish or discipline them.

The measure passed the Senate last year as part of the fiscal 2007 Defense Authorization Act, but was not enacted into law.

The White House has been hostile toward similar whistleblower bills for federal employees and is unlikely to be open to this one. When the House voted on legislation (H. R. 985) for whistleblowers at federal security and scientific agencies in March, the White House strongly opposed the legislation because it could compromise national security and increase frivolous complaints. That bill passed the House 331-94.

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