Legislation Introduced to Protect Whistleblowers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
This article features our Legal Director Tom Devine and was originally published here.
Washington, DC – Today, Representatives Jackie Speier (CA-14) and Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced H.R. 846, The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act to establish strong whistleblower protections for the employees of entities that receive federal COVID-19 relief funds. The multi-trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief effort is unprecedented in our nation’s history and Congress must ensure that robust accountability measures are put in place in order to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse. No one is better positioned to observe and report the misuse of these critical dollars than the people who work for entities that receive COVID-19 relief funds—from government contractors to frontline workers.
“Whistleblowers are truth tellers, serving as a moral compass and saving American taxpayers billions of dollars each year. We must always protect those who have the courage to come forward to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse, and especially during the pandemic,” said Rep. Speier, co-chair of the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Caucus. “The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act will ensure employees who come forward to report wrongdoing related to the pandemic can do so with confidence that the law is on their side.”
“As the COVID-19 pandemic devastates lives and livelihoods across the nation, our people desperately need the financial aid provided by the CARES Act and other pandemic response bills,” said Rep. Raskin. “We cannot afford to have these precious relief dollars swept up by scammers, conmen and cheats. We must give real protection to whistleblowers who are brave enough to speak out when they see our tax dollars being misused or stolen. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation so we can tell potential whistleblowers we have their backs when they bravely speak up for America’s taxpayers and all those so badly hurt by COVID-19.”
“As our government and communities work together to tackle COVID-19, the American people must have confidence that federal relief dollars serve their intended purposes and don’t fall into the hands of profiteers,” said Sen. Warren. “That is why I am glad to reintroduce the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act—to establish strong whistleblower protections for workers who speak up and help us root out waste, fraud, and abuse.”
The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act would:
- Institute strong whistleblower protections for employees or former employees of recipients of funds under the CARES Act or other similar legislation meant to address COVID-19.
- Protect disclosures related to relief funds that are evidence of gross mismanagement or waste, danger to public health or safety, abuse of authority, or violation of law, rule or regulation.
- Create a legal framework that provides administrative relief in which the Department of Labor can investigate whistleblower retaliation claims from non-federal employees or contractors under a strengthened legal framework.
- If administrative relief is not timely provided, whistleblowers will have access to jury trials in federal court, a best practice standard for modern whistleblower protection laws.
- Protect whistleblower confidentiality and protect against gag orders.
The legislation is cosponsored in the House by Representatives Beatty (OH-03), Carson (IN-07), Cohen (TN-09), Davis (IL-07), Demings (FL-10), DeSaulnier (CA-11), Grijalva (AZ-03), Hastings (FL-20), Hayes (CT-05), Jackson Lee (TX-18), Jayapal (WA-07), Jones (NY-17), Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), Lynch (MA-08), Maloney (NY-12), Norton (DC-At large), Phillips (MN-03), Rice (NY-04), Thompson (MS-02), and Tlaib (MI-13).
In the Senate, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Baldwin (D-WI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Brown (D-OH), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Hirono (D-HI), Klobuchar (D-MN), Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Sanders (I-VT), Smith (D-MN), Van Hollen (D-MD), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Wyden (D-OR). In the last Congress, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the bill.
The legislation is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACORN 8, Government Accountability Project, National Taxpayers Union, National Whistleblower Center, the Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Whistleblowers of America, and Transparency International U.S. Office.
“Hundreds of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars in spending spotlight a fundamental truth. The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act is just what the doctor ordered for accountability of stimulus spending programs, whether the funding is to save lives or saves businesses. Inspectors General credit whistleblower protection in the 2009 stimulus bill for minimizing fraud, waste, and abuse when the government injected hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy. Now that the government is injecting trillions, whistleblowers are more essential than ever as the human factor that is America’s best weapon against corruption,” said Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project.
“The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act is absolutely critical to enhance accountability and transparency for stimulus programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program and other federal relief spending. Those who work for entities that receive COVID-19 relief funds should be well-positioned to report waste, fraud, and abuse without experiencing retaliation. Providing whistleblower protections for individuals that speak out against misconduct helps prevent the additional threat of corruption during this ongoing public health crisis. POGO thanks Congresswoman Speier, Congressman Raskin, Senator Warren, and their staff for working to ensure that whistleblowers are able to call out waste in spending and abuses in authority around the COVID-19 response without them losing their jobs and livelihood in the process,” said Melissa Wasser, Policy Counsel, Project on Government Oversight.