Bills in the House and Senate would ban federal officials from blocking employees from sharing information with Congress, prohibit retaliatory investigations and protect more workers.
The leadership of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday introduced a pair of bills aimed at expanding whistleblower protections for federal employees and preventing agencies from retaliating against feds who file information requests through transparency laws.
Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., co-chairwoman of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, are the lead sponsors of the Whistleblower Improvement Act (H.R. 7935).
The bill would prohibit federal officials from blocking federal employees from sharing information with Congress, and add further protections against disclosure of a whistleblower’s identity. It also would prohibit agencies from launching retaliatory investigations against whistleblowers and expand existing whistleblower protections to non-career appointees to the Senior Executive Service.
Notably, the legislation would also grant whistleblowers access to federal jury trials if the Merit Systems Protections Board does not act on a case within 180 days. The MSPB has been without a quorum for more than three years, and completely without members for nearly 18 months, rendering the agency that rules over allegations of prohibited personnel practices and whistleblower retaliation effectively moot.
Maloney and Connolly also introduced the Federal Employee Access to Information Act (H.R. 7936), which protects federal employees against retaliation for making information requests under the Freedom of Information Act or the Privacy Act. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Maloney said in a statement that the bills are a direct response to the Trump administration’s campaign to oust whistleblowers and purge officials deemed insufficiently loyal to the president. Last month, Navy Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman retired from the military after the Trump administration was poised to block his promotion to colonel in retaliation for his participation in House impeachment proceedings.
“Whistleblowers risk their careers to expose wrongdoing and now, more than ever, it is important for Congress to strengthen the law to protect these heroes from retaliation,” Maloney said. “The Trump administration has engaged in systematic attacks on whistleblowers for telling the truth and for holding the administration accountable. Congress and the American people need whistleblowers to expose what is really going on inside this administration.”
“Sadly, whistleblowers have become a far too common target of the Trump administration,” Connolly said. “These brave heroes risk their reputations, careers, even personal safety, to hold those in power accountable. This legislation will afford federal employees additional protections for simply doing the right thing and ensure that those that retaliate against whistleblowers are held accountable.”