Oversight

Obama objects to whistleblower protections in defense bill

whistleblower

President Barack Obama objects to expanded contractor whistleblower protections in the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, according to a statement he issued while signing the bill into law.

The provisions allowing contractors to expose government waste and gross mismanagement “could be interpreted in a manner that would interfere with my authority to manage and direct executive branch officials,” the president wrote in a statement accompanying his signature. “I am empowered either to sign the bill, or reject it, as a whole. In this case, though I continue to oppose certain sections of the act, the need to renew critical defense authorities and funding was too great to ignore.”

He points out several sections in the NDAA that enhance a private-sector employee’s ability to call out abuses in the Defense Department and NASA. Similarly, the bill launches a pilot program related to the enhanced protections.

Obama warned lawmakers that his administration will closely watch contractors’ interactions with Congress.

“I will interpret those sections consistent with my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential,” he wrote.

Congress’ provisions protect contractor employees who disclose information that they reasonably believe are evidence of gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, or violations of laws, including regulations regarding contract negotiations and awards. The bill permanently covers all employees of defense contractors and subcontractors who bring forth the evidence and the new rights cannot be waived under any agreement or policy. The bill also extends protections to whistleblowers who are harassed or fired by a contractor at the government’s direction.

It establishes a four-year pilot program enhancing whistleblower protections applicable to all civilian federal agency contractors. The protections then could become permanent.

Congress passed the authorization act Dec. 21.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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