Safeguarding the whistleblower

Tuesday - 3/10/2009, 7:30am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

New push to improve legal protection for federal whistleblowers

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By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio

There's a new push to improve legal protection for federal workers who speak out on issues of waste, fraud and abuse in their agencies.

On Monday, the National Whistleblowers Center, a whistleblower advocacy group, began a week of lobbying on Capitol Hill by recognizing two lawmakers who support better protections for federal whistleblowers.

Here in the Washington area, the name of Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen will certainly be familiar to constituents in the 8th Congressional District. Van Hollen was recognized for co-authoring an amendment to the massive stimulus bill which would have provided legal protections for federal and state whistleblowers.

It's trying to make sure that those people who expose and report wrongdoing are not punished for telling the truth. It's as simple as that. And we need to make sure we pass legislation to protect people who do that, whether they're in the national security field or the domestic area. The idea that national security whistleblowers don't need protection is absurd on its face.

Tha so-called "Van Hollen-Platts" amendment was eventually stripped from the compromise version of the stimulus bill in an effort to attract more conservative and centrist support. Nonetheless, Van Hollen has indicated that he may re-introduce his amendment sometime in the near future, and suggests that even whistleblowers not directly connected to the federal government deserve protection.

The notion that people who work for contractors should not be protected also doesn't make sense. Especially since we know that many contractors are in the business of doing work that's contracted out by the federal govenmment.

VanHollen also agrees with extending whistleblower protection to federal scientists who he says have, in the last eight years, been ordered to change the tenor, if not the content, of their reports bowing to political considerations.

Another lawmaker recognized by the National Whistleblowers Center is Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, the recently named chair of the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. As a former Missouri State Auditor, McCaskill told me she has a special spot for whistleblowers.

Their work should be respected and revered. It's difficult work because it's lonely work. But it is righteous, and they are doing what they should do for taxpayers and for our government. Our job is now to see that they have the protections that they need so they do not have to fear retaliation.

McCaskill told FederalNewsRadio she hopes that her subcommittee will be a welcome place for whistleblowers, and a place where they can come to tell their stories.

Steve Kohn, President of the National Whistleblower Center here in Washington, has one such story, which he says underscores the need for legislation to establish whistleblower protections for those who serve in national security agencies.

I have another client I'm working with now, named Basam Yousef. The highest ranking Arab-American agent at the FBI. The only fluent Arabic speaking agent at his level or higher, yet he has been banned from using his arabic language at work. He has faced incredible racism at work. And as he told me, "if they can't deal with an Arab-American agent here in the bureau and work with me, how are they dealing with sources out in the field?"

Kohn says that in spite of the harassment and intimidation he has experienced, Yousef still goes to his job every day at the FBI, and in spite of being one of the few agents to successfully "turn", or convert to the U.S side, a top al Qaida leader, Agent Yousef still feels the retaliatory backlash of being a whistleblower:

It just so happens that his desk has responsibility for interface with national security agencies... Yes, he is retaliated (against), yes, he's pushed aside, he's disrespected, but he still goes to work everyday.

Steve Kohn says the experience of Basam Yousef is exactly the reason why whistleblower protections for national security workers is needed, and needed now.

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On the Web:
National Whistleblowers Center - whistleblowers.org

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