The House Plans to Take Up Whistleblower Protections Legislation
The bill would fill in gaps from previous whistleblower legislation, according to a coalition of advocacy groups.
On the to-do list for the House, which came back in session on Monday, is legislation that would bolster whistleblower protections for federal employees who expose wrongdoing.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wrote in a “dear colleague” letter on Friday that the House will take up a slew of bills “to promote transparency and accountability in government,” as part of its agenda for the next three weeks. Congress is facing a government funding deadline and fast-approaching midterms. One of them is the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act.
“Federal whistleblowers are an integral part of our constitutional system of checks and balances,” said a report on the bill from the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “However, whistleblowers act at great personal risk and often face retaliation. Being a whistleblower often means risking one’s career.”
Specifically this bill “would create new federal whistleblower protections, including strengthened protections against retaliatory investigations and protections for disclosures to Congress; expand and clarify existing protections, including protections against the disclosure of a whistleblower’s identity; [and] establish new procedures to ensure that employees receive timely relief for their retaliation claims,” according to the report. “It would also “extend protections to non-career Senior Executive Service employees, Public Health Service officers or applicants, and the Commissioned Officer Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairperson of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, led a group in re-introducing the bill in May 2021 after previous efforts by her and other lawmakers to shore up whistleblower protections.
“In the wake of the Trump administration’s assault on whistleblowers and the [inspector general] community, we must demonstrate that public servants will be protected and not retaliated against for simply doing the right thing,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairperson of the oversight committee’s government operations panel, and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said at the time.
Some of the most high-profile examples of this were in relation to President Trump’s first impeachment. Trump repeatedly attacked the whistleblower who revealed the now infamous call he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He also later fired the inspector general who alerted Congress, as required by law, about the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment (he was acquitted by the Senate).
The bill has 29 cosponsors (28 Democrats and one Republican). The Government Accountability Project, National Taxpayers Union, Project On Government Oversight, Taxpayer Protection Alliance, and Whistleblowers of America sent a letter of support for the legislation in May 2021. They wrote the bill would “finish what Congress started in the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.”
In the oversight committee's report, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, underscored the importance of whistleblowers, but said “the bill severely restrains the executive branch from managing bad-acting employees who claim whistleblower status to protect their positions.” There are some “creditable portions” of the bill, such as expanding whistleblower protections for certain groups of federal employees, “however, there is much in the bill that goes too far.”
The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday and expects “members will vote to allow the [whistleblower] bill to come to the floor and set the terms of debate under which the bill will be considered,” Allie Polaski, press secretary for the committee, told Government Executive. “We expect the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act to be up for floor debate and a vote later in the week, but the actual timing of consideration on the floor is up to the majority leader’s office.” The full vote in the House is expected on Thursday, but that could be subject to change, according to Hoyer’s office.
There is no companion version for the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act in the Senate to date. However, the bill is included in both the House and Senate versions of the Protecting Our Democracy Act, a massive government bill that came largely in response to issues raised under the Trump administration The House passed the bill in December 2021 and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., was the only Republican to vote for it. So far, in the Senate, the bill has just been introduced and there are no Republican cosponsors.