Senate Approves Whistleblower Rights Bill; NTEU Seeks Expansive Final Measure


12/18/07: While applauding Senate approval of S. 274 — whistleblower rights legislation — NTEU National President Colleen Kelley today called on House and Senate members to agree on a final measure incorporating the more expansive protective provisions for whistleblowers contained in House-passed legislation earlier this year. “I am very pleased by Senate approval of a measure on this vital subject,” she said.

S. 274 would close what President Kelley has described as “a very dangerous loophole” created when the Supreme Court ruled that public employees have no First Amendment protections when they speak out in furtherance of their duties.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), would make clear that federal employees are protected for any disclosure of waste, fraud or abuse, including on those matters learned about in connection with an employee's job duties.

The bill also would provide for an independent determination about the possibility of retaliation against an employee-whistleblower for protected disclosures, and would suspend for five years the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to interpret the Federal Whistleblowers Act. That court has issued decisions substantially narrowing whistleblower rights and protections.

In the wake of welcome Senate approval of S. 274, President Kelley said she believes both federal employees and the public would be best served if the final bill contains the more widespread protections afforded by a House measure, H.R. 985.

That bill, introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), provides expanded whistleblower rights and protections for national security employees, including those in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The Senate-approved measure does not include TSA employees.

Among other important provisions, H.R. 985 provides that whistleblowers—in this context, federal employees who expose instances of waste, fraud, abuse and serious mismanagement in government agencies—would have access to federal district courts in the event the Merit Systems Protection Board fails to act on their claims within 180 days. It also would allow all circuits of federal appellate courts to review such cases.

NTEU has a long history of supporting expansive whistleblower rights, which is in line with its commitment to securing and protecting the free speech rights of federal workers.