The U.S. Senate voted Nov. 13, 2012, to approve legislation to strengthen protections for federal whistle-blowers.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), designed to protect employees who expose government wrongdoing against retaliation by supervisors, is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama. The bill was a bipartisan effort and unanimously approved in the House and Senate. It amends the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.
“I am pleased that my Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act is heading to the president’s desk,” said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, in a statement. Akaka authored the bill and championed it for more than a decade. “We must protect public servant whistle-blowers who risk their careers to disclose waste, fraud and abuse. They make the federal government more effective and save taxpayers money,” he said.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) will enforce the law.
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions government reform, applauded the passage of the law.
“Every provision in the bill on its way to the president for signature is a common-sense reform that reflects a true bipartisan agreement to enhance protections for federal whistle-blowers and increase government accountability to taxpayers,” said Angela Canterbury, POGO director of public policy, in a statement. “This opening salvo to the lame duck shows that Congress can put aside partisan posturing and deliver more government accountability to the American public,” she said.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 will provide the OSC additional tools to protect federal employees from unlawful retaliation. It will also:
- Overturn legal precedents that narrowed protections for government whistle-blowers.
- Give whistle-blower protections to employees who are not currently covered, including Transportation Security Administration personnel.
- Restore the OSC’s ability to seek disciplinary actions against supervisors who retaliate.
- Hold agencies accountable for retaliatory investigations.
- Clarify that any disclosure of gross waste or mismanagement, fraud, abuse or illegal activity may be protected, but not disagreements over legitimate policy decisions.
- Clarify that whistle-blowers may disclose evidence of censorship of scientific or technical information under the same standards that apply to disclosures of other kinds of waste, fraud and abuse.
- Establish Whistleblower Protection Ombudsmen to educate agency personnel about whistle-blower rights.
“Chairman Akaka and the other sponsors of this legislation deserve gratitude for their tireless efforts to pass this good government legislation,” said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner in a news release. “OSC stands ready to implement these long-overdue reforms, which will better ensure that no employee is retaliated against for speaking out against government waste or misconduct.”
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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