Senator seeks full whistleblower rights for baggage screeners
Federal baggage screeners at the Transportation Security Administration would have full whistleblower protection rights under legislation introduced in the Senate Wednesday. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who introduced the measure, said "Agencies too often want to cover up their mistakes, and the temptation is even greater when bureaucracies can use a potential security issue as an excuse . . . At the same time, the information whistleblowers provide is all the more important when public safety and security is at stake." Grassley was one of the co-authors of the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. Grassley said his legislation would provide detailed protections for federal baggage screeners who blow the whistle. The lawmaker also said he would not support legislation creating the president's proposed Homeland Security Department if it did not include adequate whistleblower protections" for the new agency's employees. "Congress needs to make sure that federal employees involved in securing our homeland--whether they're screening bags at the airport or involved in the massive operations of the new federal agency--can speak up without retribution when there's a problem that needs to be fixed," Grassley said. "It doesn't serve the public to keep this kind of information buried in the bureaucracy." The 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act gave Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta the last word on deciding whether employees would receive full protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act. Earlier this month, TSA chief John Magaw announced that airport baggage screeners would get limited whistleblower protection rights. "TSA has established whistleblower protections which virtually mirror the established Title 5 protections," TSA spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan said in response to Grassley's legislation. Under a memorandum of understanding between TSA and the Office of Special Counsel, the independent agency responsible for enforcing the Whistleblower Protection Act, baggage screeners are protected against retaliation when they report security violations. However, unlike employees covered under the 1989 law, they will not be able to have their claims reviewed by the Merit Systems Protection Board. "Whistleblower protection is a routine human resources practice and part of doing business," Magaw said when the memorandum of understanding was announced. "I made a commitment to support screeners in every way possible and encouraging them to report both good and bad news will help us raise the bar . . . while developing a safe and nurturing environment." A directive implementing the new policy is expected by the end of the year.