President Barack Obama signed S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, the White House Office of the Press Secretary announced Tuesday.
Per the press release, the act “amends whistleblower protections for Federal employees by: clarifying the scope of protected disclosures; tightening requirements for non-disclosure agreements; expanding the penalties imposed for violating whistleblower protections; and establishing a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsmen in certain agencies … “
It’s being hailed by government watchdog groups as “long overdue.”
“This reform took 13 years to pass because it can make so much difference against fraud, waste and abuse,” Government Accountability Project Legal Director Tom Devine enthusiastically wrote. “Government managers at all levels made pleas and repeatedly blocked the bill through procedural sabotage. But once there were no more secret ‘holds,’ the WPEA passed unanimously, because no politician in a free society can openly oppose freedom of speech.
“This victory reflects a consensus ranging from President Obama to Representative Darrell Issa. The mandate for this law is that the truth is the public’s business,” Devine concluded.
That doesn’t mean some aren’t looking for a gray lining on a silver cloud, particularly among those decrying retaliation against whistleblowers.
“What I am specifically interested in about this whistleblower bill is any unintended consequences,” Gun Rights Examiner replied to the insider source who forwarded the link to the GAP post. “Is this intended to keep misdeeds ‘all in the family,’ so going outside to journalists will now be less likely?
“What effects will that have on information being suppressed so the public never finds out about it? What would have happened had this been in effect for the Fast and Furious guys? And what is the likely impact on future Clean Up ATF [whistleblower website] dialogue?” the source was asked.
“The biggest thing this does is to encourage whistleblowers to come forward,” the source replied, addressing those concerns and more. “The way things were, whistleblowers basically had zero real protections and when they were retaliated against (which almost all are), it had a chilling effect on anyone thinking about coming forward regarding government waste, fraud, or abuse in the future.
“The Merit System Protection Board [as referenced in this column] is where whistleblowers went to have their cases heard, but the MSPB was routinely dismissing cases without even giving the whistleblowers a chance to summit their evidence, much less have a hearing,” the source explained. “This law addresses that. The D.C. circuit court was where the case went from the MSPB if the whistleblowers lost at that level or the case was dismissed. This circuit court almost never ruled in favor of a whistleblower. This law addresses that by allowing (in a two year pilot program) the cases to be heard by other courts. Who would expose government corruption under those circumstances?
“Another major victory for whistleblowers is that the Office of Special Counsel will not have the cost of litigation taken out of their budget if they lose the case,” the source continued. “This of course discouraged the OSC from representing most whistleblowers.
“The new law makes it easier for the MSPB to punish those managers who retaliated,” the source added. “This is a huge step towards accountability which is the one thing more than any other that would stop much of the retaliation. Currently as you know, no one is punished and most are promoted for their efforts.
“One important way the old law affected the F&F whistleblowers is that while several were coming forward with the truth, the law only recognized the first to come forward,” the source observed. “This was a problem because it was difficult to determine who was first. Now all the F&F whistleblowers would be protected.
“Although the fine print will have to be gone through, this should encourage more employees to come forward,” the source opined. “Also, MSPB hearings are public record so there would be no hiding the corruption if the case went that far. As far as keeping the illegal activity in house, I have seen nothing in this amendment that prevents the whistleblowers from going to the media. This law will put more pressure on the MSPB to actually do their job and hear these cases. These are some pretty significant loopholes in the original laws that have been addressed.
“Bottom line is that more government corruption will be exposed and fewer managers will retaliate,” the source concluded. “This truly is a huge victory for whistleblowers and by extension, the tax-paying public that has a right to know what’s happening in their government.”
One hopes this new law has that effect. Perhaps cynicism from observing the way this administration routinely holds itself above existing laws, and the way much of the “watchdog media” routinely provided nothing but cover for it, has left this correspondent with an unrealistically jaded expectation that new ones will be similarly circumvented.
If the whistleblower law is to provide the benefits the friendly source extols, it will be incumbent on Americans who take the burdens of self-government as seriously as they wish to enjoy its freedoms to keep watch on the way it’s applied. Involved, outraged citizens must be ready to react should it turn out to be mere mollifying words, with no real deterrent effect on those conditioned to an environment where in-your-face deliberate indifference has traditionally shielded abusers from the negative consequences they’ve earned.
Read the complete text of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, on the Library of Congress THOMAS federal legislative information website.
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