Bill Introduced to Better Protect Congressional Whistleblowers

This article features our Deputy Director of Legislation Irvin McCullough and was originally published here.

On July 29, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act. The bill strengthens whistleblower protections for federal employees who make protected disclosures to Congress.

The 1912 Lloyd-LaFollette Act guarantees federal employees the right to contact members of Congress. But, according to Senator Feinstein’s press release, “the law does not adequately protect them when they do [contact Congress]. As a result, individuals who share vital information with Congress can be fired or otherwise retaliated against with impunity.”

The Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act strengthens protections by ensuring all federal employees, including contractors, can file administrative complaints if their right to contact Congress has been interfered with or denied. Under the bill, if a whistleblower’s administrative complaint does not result in a favorable decision within 210 days, the whistleblower can pursue a lawsuit in federal court in order to obtain relief. Relief can include “lost wages and benefits; reinstatement; costs and attorney fees; compensatory damages; equitable or injunctive relief; or any other relief the court considers appropriate.”

“Congressional whistleblowers safeguard our democracy by reporting fraud, waste and abuse,” said Senator Feinstein. “Retaliation against them, including threatening their jobs or safety, has a chilling effect that threatens the ability of Congress to conduct oversight. Our bill would strengthen protections for congressional whistleblowers by allowing them to seek relief in the courts if existing processes fail to protect them.”

The bill is supported by a number of whistleblower advocacy groups, including the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

“This is an important initiative which will close gaps in whistleblower protections and will build confidence for important federal employees,” said Siri Nelson, Executive Director of NWC. “NWC commends Senator Feinstein for her leadership on this issue, and hopes to see this bill gain bipartisan support. By passing this bill with bipartisan support Congress can show the American people that it is serious about government oversight.”

“Whistleblowers need to be able to communicate directly with Congress without fear of retaliation,” said Melissa Wasser, policy counsel for POGO. “When whistleblowers come to Congress with vital information, they need better protections and a means to seek relief if they are retaliated against for exercising their rights.

“Creating safe whistleblowing channels can be the difference between whether Congress sees only the tips or uncovers the icebergs as it investigates wrongdoing within the federal government,” added Irvin McCullough, GAP’s deputy director of legislation. “This bill establishes best practice and much-needed enforcement mechanisms for those truth-tellers who spotlight waste, fraud, abuse and other wrongdoing to the legislative branch.”

The Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act is cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DL), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).