On April 1, 2021, the Government Accountability Project was joined by the Equal Justice Society and 263 other organizations in a letter to government leaders supporting accountability through strengthened whistleblower protections.
The letter reflects broad stakeholder support consistent with last September’s Marist poll finding that 86% of likely voters favor stronger legal rights for whistleblowers. As the best sources of information about fraud, waste, and abuse, whistleblowers are essential for accountability and ensuring that practices and policies serve the public interest..
In the letter sent to President Biden and Congressional Leaders, we call for leadership to restore decades of bi-partisan support for whistleblower rights, and the United States’ status as the world’s leader in protecting whistleblowers from retaliation by passing best practice legislation in line with global standards.
The broad base of stakeholders reflects unity on this issue from groups that focus on issues ranging from immigration, democracy protection, civil rights, and good government, to environment, science, consumer protection, worker rights, professional associations, and social justice.
The letter further highlights the need to immediately correct the exposed loopholes and ongoing weaknesses within the civil service merit system to protect those who challenge waste, fraud, and abuse. Whistleblower protection laws must include four cornerstones to provide meaningful protections to employee whistleblowers:
- Grant federal employees the right to a jury trial in federal court, as available to corporate, state and local whistleblowers;
- Give whistleblowers the right to challenge retaliatory investigations;
- Extend temporary relief to whistleblowers whenever they prove a prima facie case of retaliation; and
- Extend whistleblower rights beyond protection from workplace retaliation, and like the European Union, give whistleblowers a legal defense against civil or criminal liability.
Unfortunately, despite this overwhelming political mandate and need to support whistleblowers, Congress has been too slow to advance existing bills that would provide improved rights for workers in the public and private sectors to report serious concerns. Rights in the heralded Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act for federal workers are virtually dormant, with no final decisions in four years and a 3,000 case backlog waiting for an appeals board without members. Unlike the 2009 $700 billion stimulus, Congress passed $6 trillion for the pandemic, without whistleblower protections against abuses that threaten public health, foster corruption or both. Congress is moving against police abuses through the Justice in Policing Act, but the legislation has no whistleblower rights to protect the honest law enforcement officers whose testimony is vital for new controls to have an impact.
Government Accountability Project Legal Director Tom Devine commented: “The public mandate for stronger whistleblower rights is overwhelming. The politicians need to catch up. America’s pioneering whistleblower laws have become dinosaur rights compared to laws globally. Ours do not compare to 2019 laws passed by the European Union and even Ukraine. Ironically, federal workers with the greatest duty to the public have the weakest whistleblower rights at a time when our nation faces the most severe crises in recent memory. The Whistleblower Protection Act’s administrative remedies are largely dormant. Unlike nearly all others in the labor force, federal whistleblowers cannot seek justice in court from a jury. Congress needs to listen to the voters, now.”
Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and Director of Education Dana Gold commented: “The support of so many different organizations reflects not only broad awareness of how critical whistleblowers’ disclosures have been on almost every issue of public concern, but also how whistleblowers’ disclosures are essential catalysts of accountability. Federal employees need to be encouraged to speak out about misconduct rather than deterred. Stronger whistleblower laws won’t just protect employee truth-tellers. They will protect all of us.”