Shouldn’t We All Be Equally Protected?
If Congress is supposed to make laws to protect people, and if all people are created equal, shouldn’t members of Congress and their employees abide by the same laws as others? Shouldn’t Congressional employees be protected by Congressional legislation as well? The logical answer to these questions would be “yes.” However, in some cases, Congress has made laws for others to abide by, but has not applied the law to its own branch of government.
Strangely enough, while Congress passed laws to protect whistleblowers, it has not extended the same protections to its own employees. Because legislative branch employees are not protected under the same laws, they may be less inclined to blow the whistle, for fear of losing their jobs or potential lawsuits. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (see previous article) is trying to change the status quo to allow Congressional employees to speak up without fear of being punished. Last year, Sen. Grassley and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act to amend the Congressional Accountability Act to allow legislative branch employees to enjoy the same whistleblower protections as executive branch employees and others. Grassley justify his Act not only because it protects the whistleblowers, but also because it allows for a more transparent government that abides by the laws. He stated that “‘Compliance isn’t just something to check off a list once, but it should be a daily effort to be sure the Senate is abiding by the law.’” In order to ensure that the government does abide by the law, whistleblowers should be able to report on wrongful activities in Congress without the worry of losing their jobs or facing lawsuits. According to Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) “Being a whistleblower takes courage…Any federal employee, including those who work in the legislative branch, who sees wrongful and unethical conduct in the workplace, should be able to report such conduct without fear of losing their job.”
Legislative branch employees are able to voice concerns to the Ethics Committee in the House or Senate or the to Office of Compliance. However, they are not protected if they blow the whistle. Grassley’s Act would provide them with protection. Act’s similar to Grassley’s have been offered in the previous 3 Congresses but have never come out of Committee. Grassley’s Act is stuck in Committee now as well. Despite the fact that the Office of Compliance has called for such protections to be extended to legislative branch employees for more than 10 years, no such Act has been passed.
Even though this seems like striking news, this is not a new issue. You may be questioning why you have not heard of this issue before. Part of the reason is that Congressional employees are not keen to blow the whistle when not protected by the law. Additionally, they may be uncomfortable lobbying Congress for the law to be extended to them. According to Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight, this is due to loyalty. People working for someone in Congress are loyal to the Congressperson they represent and therefore are less likely to blow the whistle on inappropriate activity. So, despite the fact that the Act is being offered by Grassley, it is questionable as to which will trump: loyalty to the employer or the need to report wrongdoings.
If Grassley’s Act makes it out of Committee and was voted on and passed, would Congressional employees blow the whistle more often, or will loyalty still stand in the way?
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Young Law Group is a nationwide leader in whistleblower representation and has successfully represented numerous clients in some of the nation’s largest qui tam cases for over a decade. For a free confidential consultation, please call Eric L. Young, Esquire at (800) 590-4116 or complete our online form.
Lovely, Erika. “Congress delays on whistleblowers.” Politico. 17 August 2010. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0810/41178.html.
“S. 474: Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act of 2009.” Govtrack.us. 111th Congress. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-474.