September 30, 2014

Whistleblower Protection Act Intended to Shield Whistleblowers from Agency Rules Undermining the Law

WASHINGTON – In an amicus brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives argued that Congress intended for whistleblowers who are federal government employees to be protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act for making disclosures, unless explicitly prohibited by statute.

Senators Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley and Representatives Darrell Issa, Elijah Cummings, Blake Farenthold and Stephen F. Lynch signed an amicus brief in Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, which is expected to come before the Supreme Court in its upcoming term.

The members of Congress explained in their amicus brief that the Whistleblower Protection Act supersedes any rules or regulations created by federal agencies.

“The issue before the Supreme Court is whether Federal agencies can unilaterally decide whether or not information disclosed by a whistleblower is protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act.   My congressional colleagues and I strongly believe that unless Congress has specifically passed a law prohibiting the release of information, such as the statutory prohibition on the release of taxpayer information, the Whistleblower Protection Act truly means what it says: whistleblowers must be protected from retaliation if they disclose agency information for the benefit of the public. Agencies can’t simply decide themselves what a whistleblower can legally disclose,” Wyden said.

“Only Congress does, and should, have the authority to determine the law when it comes to whistleblowing.  Agencies have a clear conflict of interest.  Giving them the power to define on their own what information is exempt from whistleblower protections would be like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.  It would sacrifice one of the most important means of uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse,” Grassley said.

“Shining the spotlight on waste and mismanagement within government often depends on information brought to light by whistleblowers. Both houses of Congress have stood squarely behind whistleblower protections and oppose any effort to water down or interfere with laws intended to protect federal employees,” Issa said.

“Congress’ intent is clear.   An agency cannot unilaterally take away a whistleblower’s right to expose waste, fraud, and abuse.   This bipartisan and bicameral brief shows how strongly Congress feels about this case and about protecting the integrity of the Whistleblower Protection Act,” Cummings said.

“Whistleblowers are vital to Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibility.  Whistleblower laws were enacted to protect workers who do the right thing and report wrong-doing.  The intent was that these statutes be broadly interpreted to protect workers and exceptions should only be enacted in law by Congress who does the investigating not agencies trying to cover their tracks,” Farenthold said.

“Federal whistleblowers serve a critical oversight role by shining light on government waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Lynch. “It is therefore imperative that we make every effort to safeguard federal whistleblower protections that enable these dedicated public servants to help Congress address government wrongdoing, enhance public safety, and mitigate waste of American taxpayer dollars. The Supreme Court should affirm the Federal Circuit's ruling in MacLean by rightfully recognizing that it would contravene longstanding congressional intent and impede congressional oversight to allow agencies to unilaterally exempt certain disclosures from whistleblower protections.”

The amicus brief can be found here.

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