Last week Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, who has been leading the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, introduced new legislation to reinforce provisions of the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. The reinforcement, known at the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, is badly needed in light of Fast and Furious as retaliation against whistleblowers exposing corruption within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department) runs rampant. The legislation is bipartisan and is co-sponsored by Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings.
"Whistleblowers play critical roles in exposing wrongdoing in government," said Issa."Federal employees who discover waste, abuse and mismanagement in their agency need to be able to alert agency leaders and Congress without fear of reprisal from supervisors, and within the confines of the law. This legislation establishes new protections for those who seek lawful ways to address abuse of taxpayer dollars."
When enacted, the legislation will:
-close judicially-created loopholes in existing whistleblower protection law;
-extend whistleblower protection rights to some 40,000 airport baggage screeners;
-increase avenues for intelligence community whistleblowers to safely and legally expose waste, fraud and abuse at intelligence agencies;
-create specific protection in the law for scientific freedom;
-ensure a permanent anti-gag statute to neutralize classifications like "classifiable," "sensitive but unclassified," "sensitive security information" and other poorly defined security labels;
-establish consistency with other remedial employment laws;
-strengthen the Office of Special Counsel's ability to seek disciplinary accountability against those who retaliate, and provides the OSC with authority to file friend of the court briefs in support of whistleblower rights cases appealed from the administrative level;
-create a pilot program to extend whistleblower protection to non-defense contractors.
Issa sent a letter to ATF Deputy Director William Hoover in June warning whistleblowers should not be retaliated against for exposing mismanagement and unscrupulous behavior within the agency or within the Department of Justice.
I write to request your assurance that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) will not retaliate against witnesses who have provided information to this Committee. I make this request in light of the fact that on June 15, 2011, in a hearing before the Committee entitled "operation Fast and Furious: Reckless Decisions, Tragic Outcomes," three veteran ATF special agents gave testimony highly critical of the ATF. They should not face reprisals of any kind for their testimony. No other ATF employees who cooperate with Congress should face retaliation either.
The Committee relies on whistleblowers to conduct unvarnished and thorough oversight. Witnesses who choose to cooperate with the Committee must be confident that they can provide information without fear of punishment.