The final economic stimulus agreement includes “best practices” anti-retaliation rights for any workers at recipients of the new federal spending, including contractors, grantees, and state and local government employees.  But Senate conferees killed a provision in the House bill that would have extended essential whistleblower rights to federal government workers.

From the Government Accountability Project February 13 press release:

(Washington, D.C) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today praised congressional negotiators for passing 2009’s first major whistleblower rights law as part of the $790 billion stimulus spending bill. The final stimulus package includes “best practices” anti-retaliation rights for any workers at recipients of the new federal spending. This includes contractors, grantees, and state and local government employees who work in programs that receive stimulus funding.

However, GAP expressed deep frustration at the conferees’ failure to extend whistleblower rights to federal government workers, who are best positioned to keep the spending honest. Senate conferees rejected a key, bi-partisan accountability provision, sponsored by Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) and Todd Platts (R-Pa), which the House had adopted without dissent. The Platts/Van Hollen amendment is a much needed overhaul of the federal employee Whistleblower Protection Act. That whistleblower legislation had been approved overwhelmingly by the House in 2007 as well.

GAP Legal Director Tom Devine emphasized, “It is not too late for accountability. After nearly ten years of hearings and votes, there is no excuse to spend nearly a trillion dollars without safe passage for federal employees who risk their careers to keep it honest. Congress has more than enough time, though, to finish locking in best practice rights for federal whistleblowers before the money starts getting spent in 120 days. The politicians owe it to the taxpayers.”

By contrast, the final stimulus package includes state-of-the-art whistleblower rights for any recipients of the unprecedented spending. GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles explained, “The stimulus law is a ‘best practices’ blueprint for modern contractor whistleblower rights. This accountability breakthrough for the taxpayers is the result of tireless efforts by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) and her staff. The Senator wisely recognized that the best means of protecting the taxpayers is to ensure that employees can speak out about waste, fraud and abuse in stimulus spending without fear of retaliation.”

The new law offers protection enforced by jury trials for contractor and state or local employees who challenge fraud, waste and abuse. The conferees did not address, however, the issue of state sovereign immunity, which means that the right to a jury trial in federal court by a state employee is uncertain at best.


And for more discussion of how the deal went down and why it matters, see The Senator Who Killed Whistleblower Rights (posted on DailyKos February 15).  It leads with:

In the din of battle over the stimulus package, the struggle for federal whistleblower protections never rose above a skirmish in the public debate.  Despite that, the death of the Platts-Van Hollen amendment was a huge loss that threatens to undermine everything the final package proposes to achieve by sharply limiting transparency and accountability at federal agencies tasked with disbursing and overseeing the allocated funds.

For years, federal whistleblower rights have received resounding votes of approval in separate House and Senate bills—only to die in Senate back rooms, garrotted by secret “holds” that blocked the bills from reconciliation and a final vote.  This time, though, it is no secret that the person who single-handedly killed Platts-Van Hollen was Senator Susan Collins (R, Maine)….