Lawmakers of both parties say
the measures are needed to prevent retaliation against such whistle-blowers,
who reveal threats to public health, safety and security. But the Bush
administration says the bill unconstitutionally interferes with the president's
ability to control and manage the government.
On Sept. 29, a House committee approved a whistle-blower
protection bill. In July, a Senate committee approved a similar measure
offering more extensive protections to whistle-blowers.
Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., the sponsor of the House bill, said:
"We need to protect public servants who expose fraud and intentional
misconduct. Court decisions in the last 10 years have eroded
whistle-blower protections, so that if you're a federal employee, you're often
risking your job – and the wrath of your superiors – if you come forward with
evidence of wrongdoing."
The Senate bill gained momentum when Sen. Susan Collins,
R-Maine, chairwoman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, joined Sen.
Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, in pushing it.
"The campaign for this legislation went from dormant to active
when Senator Collins embraced the bill a few months ago," said Thomas Devine,
legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group that
works with whistle-blowers. "That was the turning point."
As evidence of a need for legislation, lawmakers cited dozens
of cases, among them:
Federal investigators found that two Border Patrol
agents, Mark Hall and Robert Lindemann, were disciplined after
they disclosed weaknesses in security along the U.S.-Canadian border.
Teresa Chambers was dismissed from her
job as chief of the U.S. Park Police after she said the agency did not have
enough money or personnel to protect parks and monuments in the Washington,
The nation's top Medicare official threatened to fire
Richard S. Foster, chief Medicare actuary, if he gave Congress data showing
the cost of the new Medicare law, which exceeded White House estimates.
Airport baggage screeners
say they have been penalized for raising concerns about aviation security. But
in August, an independent federal agency, the Merit Systems Protection Board,
ruled that they have none of the whistle-blower rights available to other
federal employees. The government, it said, can "hire, discipline and terminate
screeners without regard to any other law."
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel,
which investigates complaints of reprisal before they go to the board, has a
large backlog of whistle-blower cases, including many pending for more than a
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have made the
government more secretive, but also have prompted more whistle-blowers to come
forward. "They feel they can no longer stand by knowing that people's lives are
at risk," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government
Oversight, another watchdog group.