House members back whistleblower bill

Four House members are pushing to expand and strengthen whistleblower protections for federal employees and federal contractors' employees who report frauds and other crimes.

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said March 12 he is supporting the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009 along with Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Bruce Braley (D-Iowa).

The bill, not yet recorded in Congress’ online database of legislation, is similar to the whisteblower amendment introduced by Platts and approved by the House as part of the recent economic stimulus law. The measure did not survive in the final version of the stimulus legislation.

The House members urged that the whistleblower legislation be passed immediately to provide for increased oversight of the $787 billion to be distributed under the law.

“Whistleblower protection is a critical part of preventing waste, fraud and abuse in our government,” Towns said. “These safeguards need to be enacted immediately, particularly now that billions of stimulus dollars are at stake, so that federal employees and employees of companies with government contracts are not deterred from reporting any mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.”

The bill would also extend and strengthen the whistleblower protections offered to government contractors, including those funded through the Troubled Assets Relief Program financial bailout, Towns said.

The bill includes a “clarification” regarding disclosure of actions that threaten the integrity of federal scientific activities, Van Hollen said.

“Over the last few years, the politicization of science has been rampant. It is important that employees who see such examples know that they are eligible for whistleblower protection, and that our science-based agencies get the clear message that retaliating against these employees is unacceptable,” Van Hollen said.

Whistleblower advocacy groups, including the National Whistleblowers Center, cite studies showing that whistleblowers in both corporate and federal environments are the single most important resource for detecting and preventing fraud. The Ethics Resource Center’s National Government Ethics Survey in 2007 found that 52 percent of federal employees observed misconduct in the past year.

However, some business groups and trade associations assert that existing whistleblower protections are adequate and expanding them can lead to abuses in the form of lawsuits.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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