WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Tuesday gave final congressional approval for a bill that would significantly expand protections for federal employees who expose fraud, waste and abuse and make it easier to punish supervisors who try to retaliate against the whistle-blowers.
The whistle-blower protection measure, approved by voice vote and sent to the president, was the product of 13 years of work by organizations pushing for greater protections for the federal workforce.
The legislation closes loopholes created by court rulings, which removed protections for whistle-blowers. One loophole specified that whistle-blowers were only protected when they were the first to report misconduct.
The new legislation, however, would go beyond restoring protections, to expand whistle-blower rights and clarify protections that were not explicitly clear. For instance, the bill would clarify that whistle-blowers could challenge the consequences of government policy decisions.
Specific protections would be given to certain employees, including government scientists who challenge censorship and workers at the Transportation Security Administration, who provide screening at airports.
The bill also would clarify a 24-year-old portion of appropriations bills, to make clear that agency restrictions on disclosures are superseded by the right to communicate with Congress and other whistle-blower rights.
To stop illegal retaliation, the bill would make it easier to discipline those responsible, by modifying the burden of proof required when taking action against those trying to punish whistle-blowers. Also, the Office of Special Counsel, which was established to protect federal employees, would no longer be liable for attorney fees of government managers if the office does not prevail in a disciplinary action.
The new legislation would suspend the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals' sole jurisdiction to review decisions in whistle-blower cases. Continued...