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Congress Must Strengthen Whistleblowers Protections

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Published on: May 21, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Rutherford Institute has joined with a broad spectrum of nearly 30 organizations to urge that federal law be strengthened to protect federal employees who speak out against government waste, fraud and misconduct and who are the foundation for assuring government accountability. In its letter to President Trump and Congress, the coalition pointed out that current law leaves such employees, known as whistleblowers, open to retaliation by supervisors and prevents them from going to court to protect their right to freedom of speech. The coalition is asking for improvements to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2012, including provisions that would allow whistleblowers to challenge retaliatory investigations and that would shield whistleblowers from all criminal and civil liability. The letter also demands reforms to the agency charged with investigating whistleblowing complaints, which has issued only three favorable rulings to federal employees on whistleblower claims since 2014.

The coalition’s letter to the President and Congress is available at www.rutherford.org.

“In our current governmental climate, where laws that run counter to the dictates of the Constitution are made in secret, passed without debate, and upheld by secret courts that operate behind closed doors, obeying one’s conscience can well render you a criminal,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “If we are to have any hope of restoring transparency and accountability to our government, it is more critical than ever that we stand up for the rights of those whistleblowers who dare to speak out against governmental wrongdoing.”

Under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) of 1989, federal employees are generally protected from retaliation by superiors when they speak out about misconduct, fraud or waste that they become aware of within their agencies. The WPA was most recently improved when Congress unanimously passed the WPEA in 2012, but that law left numerous high-stakes issues involving whistleblower protection unresolved, instead calling for further study of those issues. As a result, whistleblowers still do not have the right to a jury trial in federal court, do not get temporary relief from retaliation, and are not shielded from retaliation if they refuse to carry out illegal regulations. Additionally, employees claiming improper retaliation must seek relief from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an administrative agency that currently does not have a sufficient number of members to issue rulings and, unlike courts, does not have judicial independence. As a result, since 2014 the full MSPB has only ruled in favor of an employee three times out of 37 final decisions, including only once in 2014 and 2015 combined. The coalition’s letter to President Trump and Congress demands completion of the reforms started by the WPEA, including giving whistleblowers the right to a jury trial, providing a right of seek review of MSPB decisions in federal appeals courts, and allowing temporary relief from retaliation for employees who are able to make an initial showing that they are the victims of whistleblower retaliation.

Article posted with permission from John Whitehead

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