Whistle-Blower Retaliation Bill Clears Congress, Heads to Trump

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

Supervisors at federal agencies who are found to have retaliated against whistle-blowers would face mandatory punishment under legislation the House passed by a 420-0 vote Oct. 12, clearing the way for President Donald Trump’s signature.

The first offense under the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act ( S. 585) would result in a suspension of not less than three days, according to the text of the bill. The second offense would result in termination, the bill says.

The bill previously passed the Senate, meaning its next stop is the president’s desk, Elizabeth Hempowicz, policy counsel at the Project On Government Oversight, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 12.

“I would be surprised if he didn’t support” the bill, given the bipartisan support it picked up in Congress, she said of Trump. The White House and its Office of Management and Budget didn’t respond Oct. 12 to a request for comment from Bloomberg BNA.

Federal agencies are reluctant to take disciplinary action against supervisors who engage in whistle-blower retaliation, which is why POGO believes the measure is necessary, Hempowicz said.

POGO, along with other whistle-blower groups, has some reservations about the possible effect of the bill’s mandatory discipline provisions on federal supervisors who are themselves whistle-blowers, Hempowicz said.

“Congressional oversight of agencies is key” to making sure that the bill, if it becomes law, doesn’t have unintended effects, she said.

POGO, a Washington-based nonprofit, describes itself as “a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms.”

Executives Wonder About Unintended Effects

The Senior Executives Association, which represents the interests of the government’s 7,000 career executives, strongly opposes the mandatory discipline called for by the legislation. Federal supervisors and career executives would have fewer protections against whistle-blower retaliation compared with other federal workers if the bill becomes law, Jason Briefel, the group’s executive director, told Bloomberg BNA. That’s a problem because upper-level employees may be best situated to learn about issues at federal agencies that call for whistle-blowing, he said.

“The higher up an employee is at an agency, the more privy they are to details and information that could expose fraud, waste, and abuse,” he said.

The bill is being fast-tracked by Congress even though the VA Accountability Act, signed by Trump in June, faces possible legal challenges for taking away senior executives’ rights to due process when facing adverse employment actions, Briefel said. One issue being explored is whether the lack of such rights affects the ability of senior executives to blow the whistle on problems at federal agencies, he said.

“The VA Accountability Act made murky whether senior executives at the VA have whistle-blower rights at all,” Briefel said. “We’re concerned that, while we don’t yet understand a bill that’s already been passed, we are extending” similar provisions to other agencies, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com

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