2/15/07: NTEU President Colleen Kelley welcomed the unanimous approval by the House Government Reform Committee of legislation that would significantly strengthen protections for federal whistleblowers—including their First Amendment rights.
President Kelley described H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, as “a much-needed improvement in a vitally-important area of the law impacting federal employees,” and called on Congress to approve it. The NTEU leader applauded the efforts of Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Tom Davis (R-Va.) in moving the legislation forward. NTEU has a long history of supporting expansive rights for federal employees who disclose waste, fraud and abuse, as well as in fighting for the broadest possible First Amendment rights for the federal workforce. “Becoming a whistleblower is not an easy decision to make and NTEU is committed to ensuring that adequate protections are in place so federal employees do not face retaliation for reporting on acts of fraud, waste, and abuse in their agencies,” President Kelley said.
Among other impacts, H.R. 985 would overturn a Supreme Court decision last year in a California case restricting the First Amendment rights of government whistleblowers who initially report their concerns within their own organization. That case involved an employee in a county district attorney’s office, but has far-reaching implications for government whistleblowers at every level. Along with that change, the bipartisan legislation grants government whistleblowers access to jury trials under certain circumstances. Also, the committee adopted an amendment in its markup that would allow for the first time review of whistleblower appeals by all federal appeals courts.
At present, all federal whistleblower appeals can now be pursued only in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Whistleblower advocates long have pointed to the lopsided record of this court in ruling against whistleblower claims.
The legislation, which also has the support of a range of public advocacy groups, would extend whistleblower protections to scientific, intelligence and transportation security employees, and would require agency officials to be on the lookout for examples of security clearance revocations as a form of retribution against whistleblowers.