Washington, D.C. – Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) applauds negotiators from the Senate and House Armed Services Committees for approving strengthened whistleblower protections for employees of Department of Defense (DoD) contractors and grantees. The whistleblower protections were included in the final conference report to the FY2008 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1585). The conference on the defense bill, chaired by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), announced its results late last week. The legislation and accompanying report are expected to receive final approval and be submitted to the President later this month.

“For the first time, employees of defense contractors who challenge the corrupt and abusive practices by their employers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and here in the U.S. will have meaningful protections,” stated GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles. “This is an important first step to bringing accountability into the defense contracting process.”

The measure, championed by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Armed Services Chair Carl Levin (D.-MI.) and Susan Collins (R-ME), adopts a version of the “best practices” whistleblower rights model that already has been signed into law once by President Bush this Congress for ground transportation employees. The cornerstone of the provision gives contractor employees the right to a jury trial in district court if they do not receive timely relief from the DoD Inspector General after being retaliated against for blowing the whistle. The legislation also increases protected channels for communicating concerns, including to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) and to Congress. It broadens the categories of protected whistleblowing to include threats to public safety, gross mismanagement, and gross waste of DoD funds. And it places much-needed deadlines on the DoD Inspector General for investigating reprisal complaints.

“This victory is a breakthrough consistent with the law Congress approved for ground transportation workers to enforce reforms in the 9/11 law,” explained GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “The House has voted to extend those rights to all contractors. Last month the Senate put enforcement teeth in Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) legislation to protect American families from dangerous toys and other retail goods.” He added, “No law is credible to protect taxpayer funds or public health and safety unless it also protects whistleblowers. Otherwise, enforcement will be a corporate honor system as the rule. Congress should act quickly to extend the defense whistleblower reforms to any taxpayer spending where the government pays corporations to handle its own duties.”

The Defense Authorization conferees also approved an amendment by Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and McCaskill, establishing an independent, bipartisan eight-member “Commission on Wartime Contracting” to study and investigate federal agency contracting for reconstruction and security functions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Webb-McCaskill amendment also expands the jurisdiction of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and a newly-created Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to include security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Congress is responding to the increased opportunities for abuse created by wartime spending conditions,” added Miles. “The Commission on Wartime Contracting creates an additional safe channel for employees of contractors and the government to effectively challenge the ongoing corruption.”