GAP Hails Historic Vote by House Government Reform Committee to Extend Protections to National Security Whistleblowers

Washington, D.C. – The House Government Reform Committee continued its efforts to enhance protections for government whistleblowers by approving a bipartisan proposal that, for the first time, would extend genuine protections to national security whistleblowers if enacted into law.

The landmark protections for national security employees, including full independent due process rights to challenge security clearance reprisals, were included in H.R. 5112, the “Executive Branch Reform Act of 2006.” The legislation, introduced by Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) and Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman (D-CA), was approved unanimously by the full committee in a mark-up session held today.

In his statement in support of the bill, Rep. Waxman praised the efforts of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, whose February 14 hearing on national security whistleblowers helped demonstrate the need for the whistleblower reforms included in this legislation.

GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, who testified in favor of greater protections for national security whistleblowers at the Feb. 14 hearing, commented, “Without a doubt, the Government Reform Committee lived up to its name today. This vote is a historic bipartisan mandate to end third-class legal status for whistleblowers in the national security agencies.”

While emphasizing that committee approval is only a first step, Devine added, “This is the cornerstone for a homeland and national security strategy that relies on strengthening freedoms rather than canceling them.”

The legislation improves protections for national security whistleblowers in four fundamental areas:

  1. It bans whistleblower reprisal in the form of suspending or revoking an employee’s security clearance, the most common tactic used by federal agencies in the post 9/11 era to retaliate against whistleblowers that expose security deficiencies caused by agency negligence or corruption.
  2. It gives employees of the FBI and other intelligence agencies access to jury trials in federal district court to challenge retaliation, after an Inspector General investigation into the alleged retaliation.
  3. It legalizes classified whistleblowing disclosures to authorized members of Congress and congressional committees with jurisdiction.
  4. It neutralizes the government’s “states secret privilege” as a way to avoid accountability for executive abuses of power.

“The Government Reform Committee responded today to the pattern of abuse and the horror stories that continue to be revealed by national security whistleblowers,” commented GAP Advocacy Associate Adam Miles. “It’s time for the whole Congress to act responsibly and follow the committee’s lead.”

In September 2005, the Government Reform Committee also approved H.R. 1317, the “Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act,” legislation designed to restore the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. GAP and its coalition partners will work in the coming months to secure floor votes on both pieces of legislation.