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Bill enhancing contractor whistleblower protections advances to the Senate

The bipartisan proposal would close loopholes that have left federal contractors vulnerable to retaliation.

Legislation that would strengthen protections for federal contractors and grantees who report waste, abuse and fraud over the course of their duties has passed a key committee and is now headed to the full Senate for consideration. 

The Expanding Whistleblower Protections for Contractors Act was first introduced in May 2023 by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Mike Braun, R-Ind. 

Peters chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which favorably advanced the bill during a business meeting on Wednesday.

While Congress has passed several laws establishing whistleblower protections for federal contractors, and agencies’ Offices of Inspectors General investigate claims of retaliation against whistleblowers employed by federal contractors, existing loopholes have allowed government officials to retaliate against informants without facing additional scrutiny. 

In a press release following committee passage of their bill, Peters and Braun said “a lack of clarity in whistleblower protection laws have raised questions about whether whistleblowers who work for federal contractors are effectively safeguarded from acts of reprisal from federal officials.”

The lawmakers’ legislation would further protect both defense and non-defense contractors “from retaliation when a federal employee orders a reprisal,” including clarifying that “whistleblower protections cannot be waived by nondisclosure agreement or other conditions of employment.” The legislative proposal also explicitly protects whistleblowers that object to participating in activities that they believe to be in violation of any law or federal regulation. 

The bill also states that executive branch officials cannot request that federal contractors retaliate against whistleblowers and calls for federal agencies to take “appropriate disciplinary action” against any of their personnel who press for retaliatory measures. 

“This bipartisan legislation assures potential whistleblowers that they can bring attention to instances of government misdeeds without fear of retaliation,” Peters said in a statement. “Whistleblowers play an essential role in holding federal officials accountable and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used responsibly.”

Braun also said in a statement that whistleblowers “should not have to fear for their safety or any sort of retaliation” and added that the bill “encourages brave men and women to blow the whistle when they witness misconduct.”