Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said, “It takes tremendous courage for whistleblowers to come forward."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said, “It takes tremendous courage for whistleblowers to come forward." AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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Senate Clears Office of Special Counsel Reauthorization

Bipartisan bill would narrow agency managers’ ability to withhold documents.

The governmentwide Office of Special Counsel on Tuesday welcomed the Senate’s unanimous approval of its reauthorization bill designed to boost whistleblower rights and clarify agency obligations to respond to OSC information requests.

The bill (S 582) would help the independent agency investigate prohibited personnel practices and retaliation against whistleblowers. It would clarify that agencies may not assert common law privileges to withhold information from the OSC, and requires managers at all agencies to respond to disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse. The bill also would enhance efficiency and accountability among OSC staff.

“Whistleblowers often face retaliation from within their own ranks for simply trying to call attention to problems in government,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman who has long supported whistleblowers. “This bill helps to ensure the office can continue to support patriotic whistleblowers and to encourage more employees to speak out when they witness fraud, waste or misconduct in government.”

His praise was echoed by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who said the bill would help the OSC “right the wrongs committed against federal whistleblowers, and . . . ensure that federal agencies are taking steps to correct and prevent whistleblower retaliation.”

Ranking committee member Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., added, “It takes tremendous courage for whistleblowers to come forward, and giving them the protections they need helps ensure we can protect taxpayer dollars.”

The House passed similar reauthorization legislation in January; the two must now go to conference.

Henry Kerner, the veteran congressional investigator whom President Trump has nominated to replace the departed Carolyn Lerner in running the Office of Special Counsel, had a hearing on June 28 and cleared the committee. He awaits a floor vote.