Last week, the President signed a new version of the federal Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act into law. The 2012 version of the WPEA provides employees of federal agencies with additional protection from whistleblower retaliation when they expose corruption, fraud, misconduct, or abuse at their agencies.
While federal employees have clearly had legal protection for blowing the whistle since the introduction of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, critics have argued that loopholes have made it extremely difficult to expose problems without risking job retaliation or even wrongful termination.
For more than a decade, a coalition of concerned groups has been seeking the passage of the enhanced law. Efforts to pass the law were thwarted before several Congresses. In Dec. 2010, the act passed both houses of congress, but its final enactment was apparently prevented by a last-minute, secret hold by an anonymous senator.
This year, the WPEA was passed unanimously.
Among the situations in which the new law provides previously-absent protections against whistleblower retaliation:
- Protection is the whistleblower is not the very first person to expose the activity.
- Protection if the whistleblower discloses fraud, misconduct or corruption to a supervisor or coworker.
- Protection if the whistleblower is carrying out job duties when the disclosure is made.
- Protection is the unlawful activity is a result of a policy decision.
In the context of food safety, the new law is intended to prevent retaliation against those such as the late Dr. Dean Wyatt, a USDA public health veterinarian who exposed appalling and inhumane treatment at two slaughterhouses, only to be transferred across the country in retaliation for speaking out.
Another group the law is meant to protect is the USDA Inspectors who pointed out that the agency’s proposed new policy would only allow them a third of a second to examine poultry carcasses for safety before they were introduced into the food supply.
While cheering the passage of the new law, whistleblower advocates say there is still more to do in order to protect federal workers — and through them, the U.S. consumer and taxpayer — from being demoted or fired for doing what is right. For example, workers are still limited to administrative review as opposed to jury trial, when they seek redress for the retaliation. Overall, however, the law should make real, important changes in the way the federal government treats its workers.
Source: Huffington Post, “New Whistleblower Law Empowers Voice of Federal Food Safety Employees,” Sarah Damian, Government Accountability Project, Nov. 30, 2012
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