House Clears Two Whistleblower Protection Bills to Send to Obama

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sponsored one of the bills. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sponsored one of the bills. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Congress continues to march toward greater rights for whistleblowers.

On Dec. 5 the House cleared a Senate-passed bill sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to extend and make permanent current whistleblower protections to nearly all federal government grantees, subgrantees, contractors and subcontractors. The bill (S. 795) would also prohibit contractors from being reimbursed for legal fees accrued in their defense against retaliation claims by whistleblowers.

“We’ve got an enormous contracting workforce in the federal government, and we’ve got to make sure that all of our contractors have the same whistleblower protections as the government employees they work alongside—because these folks are the ones raising the alarm on waste, fraud and abuse of power,” said McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Her statement clarified that under current law, whistleblower protections apply only to contractors, grant recipients, subcontractors, but not to employees of subgrantees, “even though the federal government distributes billions in grant funding each year, much of which gets passed through to other organizations."

The Make It Safe Coalition applauded passage of the bill. The group of whistleblowers and 75 NGOs whose “common mission is stronger protection for employees who use free speech rights to challenge abuses of power that betray the public trust,” continues to push for such contractor rights to be extended to the Intelligence Community.

Separately on Thursday, the House unanimously passed the 2016 Federal Bureau of Investigation Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 5790), which would clarify Congress’s “intent to FBI whistleblowers who make disclosures to managers and supervisors in their chain of command, bringing the agency in line with most others in the federal government,” according to its champion, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

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