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Whistleblower protection clears another hurdle

Numerous government watchdogs and federal employee organizations are shouting out their support of a bill that, if passed, would provide the most substantial boost in decades to federal whistleblower protection.

Numerous government watchdogs and federal employee organizations are shouting out their support of a bill that, if passed, would provide the most substantial boost in decades to federal whistleblower protection.

The Project on Government Oversight, the Government Accountability Project, and a broad sweep of other interested organizations pledged to everything from better workplace conditions for feds to saving taxpayers' money, are applauding the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for its approval last week of S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act – clearing the bill for a vote before the full Senate.

"Government workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse should not have to fear being fired or demoted for doing the right thing," Angela Canterbury, POGO's director of public policy said. "A stronger whistleblower law is long overdue. After years of negotiations and near misses, this bill finally enjoys a bipartisan unity that has been scarce in Washington."

"Legislators know that their promises to cut federal misspending will not be credible if they do not deliver genuine rights to whistleblowers who risk their careers to expose waste and fraud," Tom Devine, legal director of GAP said, emphasizing the bill's contribution to deficit cutting.

Devine noted that the bill actually got its start in 1999 – and that despite the many changes in Congress' partisan balance since, the bill "retains unanimous bipartisan support."

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act almost made it into law in the last Congress, but a last-minute hold stalled it just before adjournment. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) re-introduced the bill in April.

The current Whistleblower Protection Act, passed in 1989, has been severely weakened by federal court rulings that have corroded its intent. The new act tightens the language in the old law, and offers several enhancements. It would protect whistleblowers who refuse an order to avoid violating federal law, strengthen employee free-speech protections, close judicially created loopholes in the old law’s protections, permit whistleblowers access to jury trials in federal courts to defend against certain disciplinary actions and access to regional federal courts of appeals for whistleblowers who lose before the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act would for the first time extend protection to over 40,000 Transportation Security Administration airport screeners. It would offer protection against censorship of scientific findings by government employees and specific kinds of harassment of those undergoing security clearances and requires the creation of a brand new set of analogous whistleblower protections, within an employee's chain of command, in the CIA, National Security Agency and other intelligence community agencies.

The bill's passage is backed by federal employee unions and other traditional fed advocates aiming to better protect employee rights and job protections. But it is also supported by groups traditionally less sympathetic to feds – including the National Taxpayers Union and Taxpayers Protection Alliance – who view whistleblower activity mainly as a crucial means to fight waste and fraud in government.

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