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Almost 150 Groups Call for Better Whistleblower Protections for Contractors, Grantees 

The diverse coalition sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday. 

A diverse coalition of almost 150 organizations is calling on Congress to support a provision to better protect contractors and grantees who blow the whistle on mismanagement and wrongdoing. 

The organizations sent a letter––shared exclusively with Government Executive––to Congress on Wednesday regarding an amendment to the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

“New government spending to address the devastating effects of COVID-19 and domestic priorities such as infrastructure spending could exceed trillions of dollars. The lion’s share will go to contractors and grantees,” said the letter. “With this unprecedented surge in spending, best practice whistleblower rights are essential to minimize fraud, waste and abuse.”

Until Congress passed and President Obama signed the economic stimulus package for the recession in 2009, there were not any governmentwide protections for contractor whistleblowers, Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project, told Government Executive. “It worked so well that in 2012 it got expanded from just covering the stimulus to all government spending and that’s the law we’re trying to modernize” because it has been “heavily attacked [and] gutted in a lot of respects.” 

The proposed amendment would: protect government contractors and grantees (the companies and employees) who blow the whistle from retaliation; close the loopholes for those working in foreign locations as well as state and local employees; add protections against blocklisting; and bolster confidentiality protections. 

“Annual federal contracting totals have been on the rise,” which makes it at all the more important that contractors have these protections, said Melissa Wasser, policy counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, which maintains a federal contractor misconduct database. “What we're really trying to do is to find the one champion that we can add on as a co-sponsor to the amendment.”

The amendment mirrors a measure Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C., offered in the House’s version of the Defense authorization act. It was not included in the final version over a “technicality,” Devine said. 

He, along with the others spearheading the effort, are worried that if Republicans don’t get on board with the amendment, then it will not be enacted. This is different from 2009 when Republicans pushed for the law, Devine added. 

“Whistleblower protections are taxpayer protections,” said Andrew Lautz, director of federal policy for National Taxpayers Union. “The more government spending there is, the more potential there is for wasting taxpayer funds and for abuse of power.” For example, in anticipation of the massive infrastructure package getting passed, an assistant professor at Boston University recently calculated that based on past spending, 5% could go to fraud, which is equivalent to Greece’s gross domestic product. 

Lautz added that the annual defense policy bill is “often a prime opportunity to reform and make updates to contractor law given [that the Defense Department] directs hundreds of billions of dollars to contractors every year.” 

On Monday, the Government Accountability Project, POGO, National Taxpayers Union, ACORN 8 (a watchdog organization), Protect Democracy, Public Citizen, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Taxpayers Protection Alliance and Whistleblowers of America, sent a different letter to Republican members of the Senate Whistleblower Caucus supporting the amendment.