This comes as Congress is working on the next massive coronavirus relief package.
On Thursday evening, a group of whistleblower advocacy and government accountability organizations urged Congress to pass legislation that would enhance protections for coronavirus-related whistleblowers.
Twenty-seven groups wrote to the House and Senate regarding the “COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act” that Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., introduced in June. The bill would bolster protections for employees of businesses and entities that received CARES Act funds (that totaled an unprecedented $2.2 trillion) and recipients of funds from any other future legislation to address the ongoing pandemic.
“In scattered previous laws, Congress already has approved all the provisions of this legislation for other contexts,” said the letter. “This bill combines the composite best practices in the U.S. Code to protect whistleblowers and help them make a difference. Inspectors general credited whistleblowers with minimizing fraud, waste and abuse in the 2009 spending surge. With over five times more spending so far, now we need them more than ever.”
If enacted the bill would do the following:
- Increase protections for current and former employees of recipients of CARES Act and/or other coronavirus related funds. This includes protection of confidentiality and against gag orders.
- Protect disclosures that show waste, fraud and abuse of funds;
- Establish a legal framework for the Labor Department to investigate retaliation claims from non-federal employees or contractors; and,
- Ensure whistleblowers have access to jury trials in federal court if they don't receive administrative relief in a “timely” manner.
“No one is better positioned to observe and report the misuse of these critical dollars than the women and men who work for entities that receive COVID-19 relief funds—from government contractors to frontline workers,” a summary of the bill stated. “Unfortunately, all too often employees who come forward to report wrongdoing experience retaliation.”
Among the co-signers of the letter are the: Government Accountability Project; Project on Government Oversight; National Taxpayers Union; National Council for Occupational Safety and Health; and National Whistleblower Center.
The bill was introduced in the House and Senate on June 15 and was referred to the House Education and Labor and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees.
The Democratic-led $3 trillion HEROES Act, which the House passed in May as its next recovery package, included provisions to protect IGs’ independence and would provide $145.5 million across various IG offices to support their oversight work, which often relies on whistleblowers.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that Senate Republicans are delaying the release of their next coronavirus relief package. The Trump administration is still looking over the details on which they have “an agreement in principle.”