No fear?

On May 15, President Bush signed the No FEAR Act into law. The legislation is a bipartisan measure that attempts to make federal agencies more responsible for whistle-blower and discriminatory actions.

According to the General Accounting Office, discrimination complaints by federal employees grew tremendously in the 1990s. The number of complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fiscal 1999 was more than double the number in 1991. GAO also reported that complaints by employees alleging retaliation for their participation in the complaint process had increased.

According to the New York Times, the No FEAR law (which stands for Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation) will change the way the government operates. Why? Because under this law, managers in federal agencies found guilty of discrimination will "no longer find it easy to avoid responsibility for their actions," presumably because the law requires agencies to pay for the consequences of managerial misconduct.

The No FEAR Act requires agencies to pay settlements against them in whistle-blower and discrimination cases out of their own budgets, not from a general governmentwide fund. By attacking the purse strings of offending agencies, supporters of the No FEAR Act think this provision will hold discriminators accountable for their culpable behavior.

In addition, the bill requires agencies to notify employees of their rights under various whistle-blower and anti- discrimination laws. That requirement is intended to prevent discrimination and harassment by making employees and managers aware of the rules.

The bill also requires agencies to report to Congress on the number of cases alleging intolerance, the disposition of those cases, the cost of the judgments to American taxpayers and the number of employees disciplined for discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

Though I strongly support all of the objectives of the law, I seriously doubt that anything will change as a result of its passage. Does anyone honestly believe that passing out a memo to all employees notifying them of their whistle-blower protection rights is going to change behavior within government agencies? And as for the reporting requirements, Congress already gets more reports than it can possibly handle, so how is yet another report going to help?

Another ridiculous notion is that federal agencies will be economically affected. In my opinion, any agency that encounters a shortfall because it has to foot the bill for judgments brought against it will simply ask for a supplemental appropriation. All agency officials have to do when they request such funds is explain why they need them. If the proper justification is submitted, the request is approved. There needn't be any mention of the No FEAR Act.

So will this legislation change anything? I'll bet you a cup of coffee that it doesn't.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at [email protected]


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