Expanding Whistleblower Protections

While employees of the federal government always have protections in place should they become whistleblowers, federal contract employees are not so fortunate. However, Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has proposed legislation to change that.

Senate Bill 241, first introduced in January 2011, expands the rights and protections of contract employees who witness some form of government misconduct. Currently, they are able to bring a civil claim in the name of the government under the False Claims Act, but only for contract fraud. Senate Bill 241 would also provide additional protections for whistleblowers who witness more general waste or misconduct.

Section 4705(b) of the bill describes how a person who believes that he or she is subject to retaliation due to whistleblowing may file a complaint with the appropriate inspector general. The inspector general then has 180 days to either prepare a report of his investigation or formally decline to pursue an investigation due to the complaint being frivolous, not related to covered funds, or the substance of the complaint is already being addressed by another administrative or judicial body. If necessary, the inspector general may either unilaterally extend the time limit by another 180 days provided that he has a sufficient written explanation as to why, or he may extend for a mutually satisfactory time period in an agreement with the complainant.

Upon completion, the report would be sent to the complainant, his employer, and the head of the relevant government agency. Within 30 days of the head of the government agency receiving the report, the employer will be ordered to take necessary corrective actions, such as abating the reprisal or reinstating the complainant with back pay. If the reprisal is found to be "willful, wanton, or malicious" the complainant is potentially eligible for up to ten times the amount of his lost wages. The complainant is also potentially entitled to recover attorney's fees and costs.

The goal of this legislation is to both provide protection for contract employees and expedite the process as much as possible.

This past April, the bill cleared both the Homeland Security and the Government Affairs Committees in the Senate. It has many more hurdles to overcome before it becomes law, but in its current form, it would provide protection to a group of employees that for a long time have lacked it.

Proposed Whistleblower Protections for Contract Employees Passes Committee, by Sarah Chacko, published at FederalTimes.com.

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