We applaud the House of Representatives for answering the call on Wednesday for more meaningful transparency and accountability in the federal spending bill. House lawmakers passed a critical, bipartisan whistleblower protection amendment offered by Reps. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that will strengthen and expand protections for federal workers and contractors who report waste, fraud and abuse. We strongly urge the Senate to include the same commonsense whistleblower protections in its stimulus spending legislation.
This is a true victory for taxpayers who will be well-served if the final stimulus bill empowers hard-working federal employees and contractors who are uniquely positioned to observe and report if funds are mishandled. Workplace retaliation for reporting wrongdoing is real andruthless. That’s why we have long fought for these critical protections.
The original Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 has become ineffective, worn down by obstructionist administrative policies and a monopoly court that repeatedly left whistleblowers vulnerable and without justice. The consequences of the gutting of this law have never been more apparent as we suffer an economic crisis brought on by a culture of secrecy in government and unregulated greed and corruption on Wall Street.
The new whistleblower provisions should become law so that federal whistleblowers will no longer fear intimidation and retaliation for reporting wrongdoing. The whistleblower measures overturn a series of activist court decisions and include consideration for and protections of disclosures of possible wrongdoing made during regular job duties; codify protections against retaliatory investigations; allow for due process for security clearance revocation – a favorite reprisal technique; extend specific protections to federally funded scientists, as well as baggage screeners and other Transportation Security Administration personnel; and end the monopoly of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals of appellate review, restoring the right to an appeal in any appropriate U.S. court of appeals and access to jury trials.
The new whistleblower protection measure originally was championed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and passed the House by a vote of 331-94 in 2007, but eventually was stymied by Senate inaction. Thanks largely to the support and leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as that of Reps. Platts, Van Hollen, Waxman, Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the other representatives who have spoken out in support of the measure, these effective protections now can become the law of the land.
With our allies from a broad coalition of groups representing millions of concerned individuals, Public Citizen will continue to advocate for strong protections for federal workers and contractors so they can effectively safeguard the public trust and taxpayer dollars. It should not take incredible acts of courage to become a government whistleblower, as it does now, when only the bravest civil servants come forward to report waste, fraud and abuse. It’s time to end the era of repression and ensure that all civil servants feel safe to do their jobs and make our government more open and accountable to the American people.
Whistle-Blower on Student Aid Is Vindicated
WASHINGTON — When Jon Oberg, a Department of Education researcher, warned in 2003 that student lending companies were improperly collecting hundreds of millions in federal subsidies and suggested how to correct the problem, his supervisor told him to work on something else.
Jon Oberg, a former Department of Education researcher, warned that student loan companies were abusing a subsidy program and collecting millions in federal payments to which they were not entitled.
The department “does not have an intramural program of research on postsecondary education finance,” the supervisor, Grover Whitehurst, a political appointee, wrote in a November 2003 e-mail message to Mr. Oberg, a civil servant who was soon to retire. “In the 18 months you have remaining, I will expect your time and talents to be directed primarily to our business of conceptualizing, competing and monitoring research grants.”
For three more years, the vast overpayments continued. Education Secretary Rod Paige and his successor, Margaret Spellings, argued repeatedly that under existing law they were powerless to stop the payments and that it was Congress that needed to act. Then this past January, the department largely shut off the subsidies by sending a simple letter to lenders — the very measure Mr. Oberg had urged in 2003.
The story of Mr. Oberg’s effort to stop this hemorrhage of taxpayers’ money opens a window, lawmakers say, onto how the Bush administration repeatedly resisted calls to improve oversight of the $85 billion student loan industry. The department failed to halt the payments to lenders who had exploited loopholes to inflate their eligibility for subsidies on the student loans they issued.