news feature
February 20, 2009




No Whistleblower Protection for
Fed Workers in Stimulus Bill

by Jennifer LaFleur


If you’re going to blow the whistle on mismanagement of projects funded by the new $787 billion stimulus package, you’d better not work for the federal government.

Government oversight groups praised Congress for including at least some provisions that would protect workers who speak up about problems at companies and state or local agencies that receive money as part of the stimulus. But they were disappointed that the same protections did not apply to federal employees.

The original House and Senate bills also did not include protections for employees of the federal government.

But the House did pass a later amendment (pdf) from Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Todd Platts (R-PA) that would have extended the whistleblower protections to federal workers. Senate conference members rejected the provision.

TPMmuckraker reported earlier this week that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) axed the provision. We tried to contact Sen. Collins’ staff about this, but the voicemail boxes in most of her offices are full. We’ll keep trying.

But Sen. Collins actually has a long history of pushing for whistleblower protections. In 2005, Sen. Collins, along with Daniel Akaka (D-HI), introduced legislation to protect federal workers.

"Congress has consistently supported the principle that federal employees should not be subject to prior restraint or punishment from disclosing wrongdoing. This should give federal workers the piece (sic) of mind that if they speak out, they will be protected," said Sen. Collins said in a statement at that time.

Government oversight groups hope that legislation to protect federal workers will pass before the stimulus money starts flowing.

Federal employees "are the ones that are in the best position to know how the funds are being spent," said Adam Miles, legislative representative for the Government Accountability Project. "If a federal auditor writes a hard-hitting memo and it touches a political nerve, he can be fired just for doing his job well."

Whistleblower provisions in the stimulus bill

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Requires quarterly reports on amount of funds received and spent, a detailed list of all projects, completion status, an estimate of jobs retained or created for each project and the rationale for using recovery funds.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Requires reporting of all subcontracts over $25,000.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Requires that the quarterly reports be posted within 30 days of the end of each quarter.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Requires quarterly reports by the Council of Economic Advisers detailing the economic impact of the program.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Establishes the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to conduct oversight and prevent waste, fraud and abuse. It will be headed by the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget or a presidential appointee approved by the Senate. Members include the inspectors general of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Treasury and Tax Administration.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Creates a Web site within 30 days of enactment of the act where the government will provide data on economic, financial, grant and contract information in "user-friendly visual presentations." It will provide detailed data on contracts awarded by the federal government that are over $25,000. It will provide monthly reports on funds given to each state and congressional district.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Requires Web site to provide links to job listings created by the act.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Establishes an independent advisory panel to the board, made up of experts in economics, public finance, contracting and accounting.

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency
Protects state and local government and contractor whistleblowers, including rights to civil remedy.

TITLE XVI - General Provision
Prohibits funding for casinos, aquariums, zoos, golf courses and swimming pools.

TITLE XIV-State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
Requires state and local executives to certify that infrastructure investments have received full review and vetting.

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