House Vote on Whistleblower Rights Important Step Forward


3/15/07: On March 14, 2007, by a vote of 331 to 94, the House of Representatives passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 985). The Act is the first major reform of federal whistleblower laws in 18 years and cures numerous weaknesses in existing law.

Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, introduced a different version of the whistleblower legislation — S. 274—but has not yet begun Committee consideration.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley welcomed the vote as "an important step forward." House approval of H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, “addresses some very serious concerns that impact taxpayers and, indeed our entire nation,” President Kelley said. She called on the Senate to take similar action.

‘Whistleblower’ is the term generally applied to federal workers who expose instances of waste, fraud, abuse and serious mismanagement in government agencies. Under H.R. 985, whistleblowers 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.

At the same time, the House-approved legislation would close loopholes which have prevented whistleblowers with national security responsibilities from obtaining protections — a step President Kelley described as “particularly important for the security of our nation”—and it would overturn a Supreme Court decision sharply limiting whistleblower rights. In that case, the court’s ruling prevented government whistleblowers from obtaining First Amendment protections when they report their concerns within their organization through their workplace chain of command.

NTEU’s support for expanded whistleblower protections is in line with its long-time commitment to laws and regulations addressing the free speech rights of federal workers.