Thursday, April 14, 2005

WP - Stephen Barr - Good News for Bunny Greenhouse!

Senate Committee Approves Greater Protections for Whistle-Blowers
By Stephen Barr - Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page B02

These are tough times for federal employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse. Their cases take months to investigate; they often face reprisals from bosses, and once in court, they find that the protections granted by Congress are not all that strong.

In an effort to strengthen those protections, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bipartisan bill that supporters hope will encourage employees to step forward when they spot wrongdoing in government offices.

"Strengthening whistle-blower protections is more than just an employee protection issue. It promotes good government," Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), a chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

"If federal employees fear reprisal for blowing the whistle, then we not only fail to protect the whistle-blower, but we fail to protect taxpayers and . . . national security," Akaka said.

Among those sponsoring the bill are Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

The legislation would clarify congressional intent as to what type of whistle-blowing is protected and where it may take place. It also reinforces the right of whistle-blowers to turn over classified information to Congress, but only to members and aides who hold security clearances and who are authorized to receive the information.

The bill would prohibit federal managers from suspending or revoking an employee's security clearance in retaliation for whistle-blowing. The Merit Systems Protection Board would be able to conduct expedited reviews in disputes over security clearances but would not have the power to restore a security clearance, according to the bill.

Under the bill, federal employees would be required to offer "substantial evidence" in court to support disclosures of improper activities. That would make clear that employees did not have to provide "irrefragable proof" of official misconduct, a standard used in a 1999 court ruling and one that watchdog groups contend is impossible to meet.

The bill also would suspend the monopoly held by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on whistle-blower retaliation cases and permit multi-circuit review for a period of five years.


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