HR 3289 – The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has introduced legislation that would strengthen the protections granted to whistleblowers in the Federal government. This act, HR 3289 – The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011, was introduced yesterday and has 3 co-sponsors including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee. While the text of the legislation is not yet available, Issa’s office did release this statement about the bill.

WASHINGTON – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) today announced the introduction of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 3289). The legislation will strengthen provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Act, originally enacted in 1989, for federal government employees who expose abuse, mismanagement, or criminal activity in federal agencies and programs.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is an original co-sponsor of the legislation, as are Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who sponsored whistleblower protection enhancement legislation last congress. Similar legislation was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month. You can read a copy of the House legislation here.

“Whistleblowers play critical roles in exposing wrongdoing in government,” said Issa.”Federal employees who discover waste, abuse and mismanagement in their agency need to be able to alert agency leaders and Congress without fear of reprisal from supervisors, and within the confines of the law. This legislation establishes new protections for those who seek lawful ways to address abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

When enacted, the legislation will:

  • close judicially-created loopholes in existing whistleblower protection law;
  • extend whistleblower protection rights to some 40,000 airport baggage screeners;
  • increase avenues for intelligence community whistleblowers to safely and legally expose waste, fraud and abuse at intelligence agencies;
  • create specific protection in the law for scientific freedom;
  • ensure a permanent anti-gag statute to neutralize classifications like “classifiable,” “sensitive but unclassified,” “sensitive security information” and other poorly defined security labels;
  • establish consistency with other remedial employment laws;
  • strengthen the Office of Special Counsel’s ability to seek disciplinary accountability against those who retaliate, and provides the OSC with authority to file friend of the court briefs in support of whistleblower rights cases appealed from the administrative level;
  • create a pilot program to extend whistleblower protection to non-defense contractors.

The legislation will be considered at a business meeting of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee Thursday November 3rd at 9:30 a.m.

Given the retaliation that we have seen against such ATF whistleblowers as John Dodson, Vincent Cefalu, and Jay Dobyns, I think this legislation is an overdue step in the right direction.

Katie Pavlich of did a story a week and a half ago about ATF Agent Jay Dobyns who, after successfully infiltrating the Hell’s Angels, received death threats, threats against his family, and had his house burned to the ground. These threats were ignored by the then head of the Phoenix Field Division William Newell. When Dobyns filed a complaint, Newell retaliated against him. As Pavlich notes as to why this matters:

So why does this matter? Newell was the brainchild of Operation Fast and Furious in the ATF Phoenix Field office. Newell is also the agent who was in regular contact with a member of the White House national security team, Kevin O’Reilly, about the lethal program. Newell also said he would conduct Operation Fast and Furious again, despite two Americans and hundreds of innocent Mexicans dead as a result of the program.

Newell used Dobyns as a test run, to see just how much he could get away with in his management position within ATF before getting reprimanded. Considering nobody was held accountable for the mistakes made in handling death threats against Dobyns, Newell knew he had the green light to do whatever he wanted, at the highest levels of corruption. The Dobyns case empowered him. Newell was protected and defended for ignoring violent death threats against a federal agent, he had free reign to do what he wanted. This gave Newell everything he needed to get away with Operation Fast and Furious, which started in Fall 2009.

If Newell and Gillett had been reprimanded and/or fired when they should have been, we may never had a Project Gunwalker and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry could well still be alive. That sounds like as good a reason as any to see HR 3289 pass and be signed into law.