Permanent Whistleblower Protections
A bill sponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill to make permanent a pilot program applying whistleblower protections to contractors, subcontractors, grant recipients, and subgrantees has been passed by the House and Senate. It applies the program’s protection from retaliation to nearly all civilian employees except for the intelligence community.
The pilot program was set to expire in January 2017. It has been used by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General to investigate alleged retaliation at the Hanford nuclear facility.
The DOE has the largest civilian contracting workforce in the federal government. A Government Accountability Office report about permanent whistleblower protections for Department of Energy contractors before the pilot program noted that the program was difficult to navigate without legal assistance. It also found that the enforcement authority was only “infrequently used” with two violation notices in twenty years.
The bill also prohibits the reimbursement of contractors for the legal fees they accrue in defending themselves from whistleblower retaliation claims.
The bill unanimously passed through the U.S. Senate in June and was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives a few days ago. It is headed to President Obama’s desk and he is expected to sign it into law.
Its adoption comes only a few weeks after a $125 million settlement with a contractor and subcontractor at the Hanford nuclear facility concerning allegations of charging the DOE for deficient nuclear quality materials, services and testing at the waste treatment plant.
The text of the legislation is available from Congress.gov.
More About Public Law 114-261
Public Law 114-261, also known as the “Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016,” is a law enacted by the United States Congress. It was signed into law on December 14, 2016. The law aims to enhance the authorities and effectiveness of federal agency inspectors general (IGs) in combating waste, fraud, and abuse within the government.
The key provisions of Public Law 114-261 include:
- Whistleblower Protection: The law strengthens whistleblower protections for employees who report wrongdoing within federal agencies. It prohibits retaliation against employees who make protected disclosures and expands the scope of disclosures that are protected.
- Access to Information: The law grants IGs greater access to agency records, documents, and information necessary for their investigations. It requires agencies to provide timely and complete access to information requested by the IGs.
- Subpoena Authority: Public Law 114-261 provides IGs with expanded subpoena authority, enabling them to compel the production of documents and testimony from witnesses during investigations. This authority enhances their ability to uncover evidence of misconduct or malfeasance.
- Administrative Leave: The law addresses the issue of paid administrative leave for employees under investigation by requiring agencies to report to Congress on the use of such leave and placing limits on the duration and circumstances under which it can be granted.
- IG Council and Council of Counsels: The law establishes the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which serves as a forum for IGs to coordinate and share information. It also establishes a Council of Counsels to facilitate legal cooperation among IGs.
Public Law 114-261 aims to strengthen the independence and effectiveness of federal agency IGs by providing them with greater tools, authorities, and resources to uncover and address waste, fraud, and abuse within the government. By enhancing transparency and accountability, the law seeks to promote integrity and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.