Second life for fed whistleblower shield bill

Friday - 3/13/2009, 7:16am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

Defending feds who 'speak the truth'

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By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.) says federal employees "are on the front lines at federal agencies, and are going to be involved in spending the money from the economic recovery plan, as well as ongoing funds in the operation of the federal government."

And that's why he has re-introduced the "Whistleblower Protection Enhacement act of 2009". This is a modified version of an amendment to the most recent stimulus bill that made it through both houses of Congress, only to be stripped from the final, compromise version of the measure signed by President Obama.

In a Capitol Hill briefing, Van Hollen says the bill is absolutely vital to shield and encourage feds who speak up when they see something wrong.

We're here to reintroduce the legislation to insure that national security whistleblowers are protected. If somebody has already received a top-secret clearance, if someone has already been determined by our government to meet all the security clearances, if that individual sees waste, fraud and abuse, we have to have a mechanism for that individual to report it without fear of retribution and firing.

Van Hollen adds that this bill also protects federal contractor whistleblowers as well as scientific whistleblowers.

We asked Van Hollen to respond to one of the most common criticisms and stereotypes of whistleblowers -- that they are just disgruntled workers who have an axe to grind against their boss or their agency:

The whole idea behind the bill is to insure that these individuals have a fair hearing in front of an impartial judge or decision maker who is going to have all the facts. The current system is stacked against them limiting their access to the courts, and also creating burdens of proof that are... insurmountable.

Van Hollen, who is also the newly appointed Assistant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, enjoys high-powered support for his measure.

New York Democrat Edolphus Towns, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he plans on holding hearings on the measure sometime in the next month.

At a time when America needs the best value for every dollar spent, we need the protection (for whilstleblowers) now more than ever, and especially now that billions of stimulus dollars, and billions more aimed at stabilizing the financial system, are at stake.

Van Hollen's co-author of the original 2007 Whistleblower bill, Pennsylvania Republican Todd Platts, has returned to back the new bill.

It's important because it reaches across everything the federal government does. The new administration has talked about improving the efficiency of the federal government, making sure we're doing better with taxpayer funds, and this is one of the cornerstones to achieving that.

A report released earlier this week by the National Whistleblowers Center here in Washington suggests that whistleblowers are the single most important resource for detecting and preventing fraud.

In addition, the Ethics Resource Center's National Government Ethics Survey found 52 percent of feds observed some form of misconduct in the past year, and 24 percent of those didn't report because they feared retaliation from a supervisor.

All good reasons, says Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley, for his support of the bill.

"I think the American taxpayer," he says, "should be flooding our offices demanding fast action on this bill."

Van Hollen told Federal NewsRadio that the original Whistleblower amendment passed the House by a 334 vote margin during debate on the stimulus bill, and enjoyed similar support in the Senate. He says he's hopeful of the same fate for this stand-alone Whistleblower bill as he awaits a date for a hearing in the House Oversight Committee.

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On the Web:
FederalNewsRadio - Safeguarding the whistleblower

Ethics Resource Center - National Government Ethics Survey (pdf)

National Whistleblowers Center - NWC Urges Congress To Pass Whistleblower Bill Immediately (press release)

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