Legislators Want Better Whistleblower Protections, Forget To Include Their Own Staff Members

from the Ohhh,-THOSE-unprotected-government-employees dept

This administration hasn't been big on protecting whistleblowers. It often talks about increasing transparency and accountability, but its actions have been the complete opposite. The same goes for the rest of the government. Agencies institute whistleblower protections, often in response to Inspector Generals' reports detailing violations of existing policies, but still remain much more interested in nabbing "insider threats" than protecting whistleblowers from retaliation.

Various bills have been introduced to strengthen protections for whistleblowers. But, as Marcy Wheeler (writing for Expose Facts) points out, legislators fighting for whistleblowers are leaving behind a lot of people very close to them.

When Congress passes good governance laws — most notably FOIA — they tend to exempt themselves.

They’ve done the same with a series of Whistleblower Protection laws. While they’ve amended the Whistleblower Protection Act and added protections to employees in the private finance industry, they have not offered the same protections to their employees.
Sadly, this seems to be the case far too often. Lawmakers tend to write laws for other people. But accountability shouldn't just apply to other entities. Congress needs whistleblowers just as much as the rest of the government does. In this case, however, it doesn't appear to be intentional. It appears to be that some of these legislators are simply unaware they're pushing for something they've already exempted themselves from having to follow.

Roll Call -- a DC-focused new site -- confronted some of the legislators who approved a resolution naming July 30th "Whistleblower Protection Day" about the unprotected potential whistleblowers working for them.
Asked about the [Whistleblower Protection Caucus] report, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the caucus’s founders, said federal workers are protected. When informed about the OOC report that stated protections did not extend to legislative branch workers, Grassley said, “We’ll take a look at it.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., another of the caucus’s founding members, was shocked to learn congressional employees are not protected.

“They should [be protected],” McCaskill said. “I’ll go right back to the office and say, ‘Draft that legislation!'”

“Whistleblowers should be allowed to operate and have protections everywhere in our government,” McCaskill added. “Everywhere.”
Hindsight has been adjusted to roughly 20/20, give or take an ongoing blindspot. Now, instead of congratulating themselves on crafting healthier whistleblower protections while their respective staffs look on in concern, they'll be performing the civic duty of "getting right on that." Hopefully, this will result in the institution of the currently-missing protections. But it can just as easily result in this being yet another law Congress doesn't have to follow -- especially if the numerous legislators currently unconcerned with the lack of strong whistleblower protections decide their interests are more important than the public's.

A few legislators were aware of the missing protection, however. Senator Barbara Boxer is already working on legislation that will encompass federal employees not currently covered by existing laws, and Senator Ron Johnson has already set up his own whistleblower "hotline."
“I would say that is news to me,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., when told that legislative workers were not protected. “I think they should be. And certainly we’ve [set up] a website, whistleblower@ronjohnson.senate.gov, and I hope they would take advantage of that.”

“I’ll protect ‘em,” he added.
It's not clear how much protection Johnson can offer anyone not currently covered by whistleblower protections, but a senator's office likely offers a bit more of a shield than going it alone.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: congress, congressional staffers, whistleblower protections, whistleblowers


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 9:33am

    Theyre Joking, Right?

    Grassley, McAskill, and Ron Johnson are some of the biggest NSA defenders in Congress! When they also start defending national security contractors then you'll have my attention

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:14am

      Re: Theyre Joking, Right?

      Exactly! That's why the reporter doing the interview didn't get the sarcastic replies to his questions. We didn't see the rest of this reply:

      “They should [be protected],” McCaskill said. “I’ll go right back to the office and say, ‘Draft that legislation!'” And then he started running in place. "I'm running back to my office!" He pantomimes shouting. "Draft that legislation! What?" He turns to the reporter. "They want to know if 'whistleblower' is all one word, or hyphenated."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 6:29pm

        Re: Re: Theyre Joking, Right?

        You know, in looking back at my joke above, I noticed one frightening thing: this guy doesn't make his own drafts for legislation; by his own words, someone else writes everything for him! Which actually seems more probable when you consider what we've learned about the MPAA and other such groups and what they think the politicians they donate to should be doing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 9:36am

    Forget?

    Senate: "So, you're saying you were doing what you were told by your boss?"
    Aide: "Yep."

    Senate: "Well, son, you're screwed. We can't touch your boss, but we sure as hell can touch you. Don't drop the soap."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 9:37am

    Now go back and ask them...

    ... if Snowden was a whistleblower deserving of protection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      metalliqaz (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:17am

      Re: Now go back and ask them...

      That's not the kind of whistle-blowing they want to protect. They want to protect the guy who rats out on corrupt billing practices and other low level fraud that costs the government money. Any dissenter that calls bullshit on straight-from-the-top illegal policies must be destroyed immediately and buried.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stephen, 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:11am

    Lack of Basic Research?

    Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., another of the caucus’s founding members, was shocked to learn congressional employees are not protected.
    To paraphrase an old saying, enact in haste, repent at leisure.

    It sounds as if the those who drafted the legislation, and their supporters, did not bother with conducting some basic research first before they crafted their bill.

    This is, of course, assuming the exemptions the article refers to were indeed unintended and not deliberate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 2:07pm

      Re: Lack of Basic Research?

      Regret to inform you that this has been Congress' M.O. for damn near every piece of legislation they've put out.

      (Unless you count the "research" provided by campaign donors.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 10:56am

    There seems to be an error in the headline. It should read "Legislators Want Better Whistleblower Protections, "Forget" To Include Their Own Staff Members".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:40am

    Wasn't that the important part of Napoleonic law?

    That rulers weren't exempted from the rule of law?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 11:55am

      Re: Wasn't that the important part of Napoleonic law?

      Very true. See how OLD and OUTDATED that is? We need NEW and MODERN laws that protect the rich and famous and connected against the tyranny of the masses.
      /s

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 2:56pm

        Re: Re: Wasn't that the important part of Napoleonic law?

        Well they do say history repeats itself...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 4:34pm

          Distracted by the T&A, I suspect.

          We have to discard all our elements of civilization in order to be reminded why they were a good idea in the first place.

          C'mon, world. Half of you are watching Game of Thrones which telegraphs its cause and effect and why diffusion of wealth and power are a pretty good idea.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ThatDevilTech (profile), 3 Aug 2015 @ 12:28pm

    And certainly we’ve [set up] a website, whistleblower@ronjohnson.senate.gov


    Anyone else catch this? Just shows the technical prowess of Sen. Johnson to think an email is a "website." Guess that's what you get when you have lawyers and businessmen deciding technical policy when the majority of them have no freakin' clue what a website is versus an email address.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:43pm

    Well, I'm in a quandary. I can't decide if I should make a bad joke about the word 'oversight', or a bad joke about insider trading exemptions...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2015 @ 1:44pm

    The fact is everyone should be exempt from any law forbidding them from Whistle blowing , you should not have to hope for permission from the overlords , It should be a human right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.