With a Senate vote Tuesday, Congress gave final approval to legislation strengthening protections for federal whistleblowers.

The measure, which advocates have been pushing for more than a decade, now goes to President Obama for his signature. The legislation is designed to protect employees who expose government wrongdoing from retaliation by supervisors.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which will enforce the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), praised the Senate’s action. In a statement, OSC said the legislation will:

  • “Overturn court decisions that narrowed protections for government whistleblowers;
  • “Give whistleblower protections to employees who are not currently covered, including Transportation Security Administration officers;
  • “Restore the Office of Special Counsel’s ability to seek disciplinary actions against supervisors who retaliate;
  • “Hold agencies accountable for retaliatory investigations.”

Whistleblower advocates hailed congressional approval of the legislation.

“The WPEA closes many loopholes and upgrades protections for federal workers who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality,” said Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

“We cannot thank longtime whistleblower and federal worker champion Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) enough for his tireless efforts. He is retiring after many years of service and the WPEA certainly will be remembered as one of his most admirable legacies.”

With the Senate’s action, “free speech rights for government employees never have been stronger,” said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project.”

But Devine added that the legislation is not all that advocates wanted.

“It would be dishonest to say our work is done, however, or to deny that government whistleblower rights are still second class compared to those in the private sector,” he said. “House Republicans blocked two cornerstones of the legislation: jury trials to enforce newly-enacted protections, and extension of free speech rights to national security workers making disclosures within agency channels.”

After Congress did not include whistleblower protections for national security and intelligence employees, President Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive prohibiting retaliation against them for exposing waste, fraud and abuse.