The Government Accountability Project is currently gathering signatures for an open letter to President Trump and Congress. The letter, which will be gathering support throughout the summer, asks lawmakers to update the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 to close loopholes in the act’s protections. Here is a summary of the recommendations we give in the letter:
- Give whistleblowers the right to a jury trial in federal court (right now, they have to rely on the inefficient Merit Systems Protection Board).
- Let whistleblowers challenge retaliatory investigations employers often conduct to find minor violations in their past. These investigations are usually attempts by employers to find justifications—however meager—for firing employees who have reported misconduct.
- Protect whistleblowers against criminal and civil liability. If a retaliatory investigation turns into criminal prosecution, the employee involved may have been better off being fired. Such a risk creates a major disincentive for reporting violations and abuses.
- Give whistleblowers temporary relief (i.e., financial stability) when they have a credible case of retaliation.
- Allow whistleblowers to challenge MSPB decisions in appeals court.
- Make sure every inspector general’s office has a whistleblower ombudsman or representative to help employees through the process.
- Prevent employers from increasing the required security clearance for employees’ jobs. Doing so can effectively push employees out of their jobs without firing them.
- Discipline supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers.
- Protect disclosures even before application to government positions.
- Permit the Office of Special Counsel to issue a stay, ensuring that whistleblowers can continue working while their case is pending.
Whistleblower protection is one of the most consistently bipartisan issues to come before Congress—the WPEA passed both houses unanimously in 2012. Because the issue already enjoys such broad support in Congress, a concerted effort by a coalition of organizations has a strong chance of bringing enough attention to this issue for Congress to act. And even though the WPEA was a great victory, action is still necessary. The MSPB is far too backed up to handle all of its cases, and simply protecting whistleblowers from retaliatory firing is not enough; in fact, it opens an even more harmful option for employers. Without firing employees who report misconduct, they can open investigations into these employees, which can potentially turn into criminal prosecution. Some employees would likely rather be fired than deal with the stress and expense of litigation.
This is an issue that concerns all of us. Whistleblowers, acting in the public interest, risk everything when they expose fraud, gross waste, and other unethical practices both in government and in private corporations. However, loopholes and weaknesses in the current whistleblower laws give employers latitude to retaliate against whistleblowers with impunity. Unwilling to risk their jobs, reputations, careers, or safety, many would-be whistleblowers stay silent.
Whether they discover violations of environmental regulations, embezzlement of public funds, or any other abuse of power, employees must feel free to exercise their rights without fear of retaliation. Protection for whistleblowers means more transparent, accountable, and responsible government and corporations for all of us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-457-0034 ext. 139 to read a copy of the letter or to sign on. We encourage all members of the Make It Safe Coalition and others to join GAP in this effort.