Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., is one of the sponsors of the bill.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., is one of the sponsors of the bill. Tom Williams/Pool via AP

Democrats Reintroduce Bill to Protect Employees Who Blow the Whistle on COVID Funds Misuse

Congress is working on the next massive relief package.

House and Senate Democrats reintroduced legislation on Thursday to bolster whistleblower protections for employees of business and entities that received federal coronavirus relief funds. 

Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., reintroduced the “COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act,” which is aimed at bolstering rights for non-federal employees and contractors. This bill was originally introduced over the summer during the last Congress, but now the Democrats control both chambers. 

“The multi-trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief effort is unprecedented in our nation's history, and Congress must ensure that robust accountability measures are put in place in order to guard against waste, fraud and abuse,” said a press release from the lawmakers. “No one is better positioned to observe and report the misuse of these critical dollars than the people who work for entities that receive COVID-19 relief funds-from government contractors to frontline workers.”

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Prohibit reprisal against employees for disclosing any evidence showing a “reasonable belief” of waste, fraud and abuse of COVID-19 funds, according to a summary. 
  • Protect disclosures employees make to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, inspectors general, the coronavirus Congressional Oversight Commission, the comptroller general, members of Congress, congressional committees, state or federal agencies, or any other entities.
  • Preclude disclosing whistleblowers’ identities, to the end required by law, or unless the whistleblower gives written consent. 
  • Provide whistleblowers with administrative remedies through the Labor Department. If such relief isn’t provided in a “timely” manner, then give whistleblowers access to jury trials in federal court. 
  • Instruct the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Relief, Pandemic Relief Accountability Committee, and Congressional Oversight Commission to create a public website for workers to submit complaints. 

The law would provide the Labor Department with $20 million to carry out its provisions. Also, it would not preclude whistleblowers from receiving relief from state whistleblower laws. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACORN 8 (a watchdog organization), Government Accountability Project, National Whistleblower Center, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Whistleblowers of America, and Transparency International (the U.S. office) endorsed the bill. 

“Trillions of dollars are being distributed by the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis,” said Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen, in a statement on Thursday. “It is essential that every dollar is used wisely and reaches communities that need it most. We cannot afford to have this essential assistance snatched up by those willing to take advantage of the nascent system of distribution of pandemic relief funds.” 

This comes as Democratic lawmakers and President Biden are working to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan. Early on Friday morning, Senate Democrats approved a budget resolution that will allow them to pass the legislation with a simple majority, meaning without support from their Republican colleagues. The House previously voted on Wednesday to start the process. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement on Friday that: “Next week, we will be writing the legislation to create a path to final passage for the Biden American Rescue Plan, so that we can finish our work before the end of February.”