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Can the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act Be Counted on No Matter What?

federal whistleblower protection act

federal whistleblower protection actThe Federal Whistleblower Protection Act was a landmark piece of legislation in the history of government whistleblowing. It provided new protections for those employed by the government that “blew the whistle” (reported) on various illegal and immoral acts committed by other government employees.

Before this Federal Whistleblower Protection Act passed in 1989, there were relatively few systematic protections for whistleblowers. As a result, the number of government employees who filed reports of illegal and unethical behavior was fairly small. It is also important to note that the people who did file reports were often subject to harassment, punishment, and even termination. Lawmakers saw the need for a piece of wide-reaching legislation.

Actions Covered by the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act

The Federal Whistleblower Protection Act covers a wide range of different actions that are typically called “whistleblowing.” The actual wording of the legislation provides protection to as many people as possible. The law states that whistleblowers may make reports that they believe “reasonably evidences” a violation of law, regulation or legal rule. They also have protection if they report gross mismanagement, gross waste of taxpayer dollars, abuses of authority or threats to public health and safety.

Federal Agencies Involved in Enforcing the Whistleblower Protection Act

There are several federal agencies dedicated to the enforcement of the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act. These include the Office of Special Counsel, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. While these agencies have all been subject to controversy regarding their protection of whistleblowers at one time or another, they undergo constant reforms with the intention of better protecting those who report unethical and illegal government behavior.

The Office of Special Counsel

The purpose of the Office of Special Counsel is to investigate whistleblower complaints. It has successfully investigated multiple complaints made against members of the Federal government on various occasions. However, it has been at the center of controversy in recent years.

It all started in October 2008, when Scott Block (who was then special counsel) quit during an FBI investigation regarding the Office’s operations. He was allegedly deleting computer files of people who had complained about his management practices. The irony of the situation was clear to a presidential candidate named Barack Obama, who vowed on the campaign trail to appoint a new special counsel committed to the rights of whistleblowers. It took President Obama several years to do so, but he eventually appointed Carolyn Lerner to the post. There have not been any similar controversies since her appointment.

The Merit Systems Protection Board

The Merit Systems Protection Board is a quasi-judicial agency that rules on whistleblower complaints. However, the Merit Systems Protection Board, sometimes referred to as the MSPB, has its share of controversy as well. Since 2000, only three out of 56 cases brought by whistleblowers have resulted in rulings favorable to the whistleblowers. This has led to a great deal of scrutiny of the MSPB.

Again, President Obama decided on reforms. He appointed a new chairperson and vice-chairperson, which many regard as merely the beginning of the changes necessary to truly turn around the MSPB. Upcoming cases will reveal whether the Board will start coming up with rulings that are more favorable to whistleblowers.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sometimes referred to as the CAFC, is the court that hears whistleblower cases ruled on by the Merit Board. Similar to the other two agencies involved in investigating and ruling on Federal whistleblower cases, it has attracted controversy for its operations. Many members of Congress, notably Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, have raised issues with its rulings. Some say the Court has misinterpreted whistleblower laws and set precedents weighted against the whistleblowers.

The numbers suggest that those who have taken issue with the Court may have a point. Between 1994 and 2010, the Court heard 203 cases. Out of these 203 cases, only three resulted in rulings for the whistleblowers. Unlike the other two federal organizations, there have been no efforts to reform the CAFC. The fact that the Court began in 1982, before the passage of the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act, has been a focal point of calls to reform the CAFC. There are suggestions that a new court should be set up specifically to hear whistleblower cases.

Can you always count on protection from the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act? While you may remain protected from retaliation, it’s true that new reforms may need to take place so more whistleblowers can experience the full benefits of the act as it was intended. To get more information, contact the skilled Federal Whistleblower Protection Act attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today. We will fight hard to give you the legal representation you deserve. We have many years of experience working these sorts of cases, so you can rest assured we know what we’re doing.

What Types of Protection Do the Whistleblower Protection Laws Provide?

Whistleblower protection laws

Whistleblower protection lawsWhistleblower Protection Laws, based on the False Claims Act, are intended to prevent retaliation against federal workers and private citizens who speak out regarding crimes, ethical violations, and other illegal behavior committed against the public interest. It’s true that these laws can bring compensation, but it’s important to know more than that fact alone. To gain an understanding about the types of protection the laws provide, let’s take a look at some of the better-known whistleblowers of our time.

What words come to mind when you hear these three names: Edward Snowden, Deep Throat, and Linda Tripp? These notorious whistleblowers’ names invoke varying emotions, based on your personal views.

Did Snowden betray his government or was he following a higher calling of “the people deserve the truth?” He’s been living in asylum in Russia, via Hong Kong, ever since he leaked classified documents regarding private citizen surveillance. Snowden calls it whistleblowing; the US government calls it espionage.

In 1974, a man known as Deep Throat, FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt, played a critical role in what came to be known as Watergate and led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. He revealed himself as the infamous source for reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, but not until 30 years after the events took place.

Then, of course, there’s Linda Tripp. She announced the scandal about Monica Lewinski and Bill Clinton and the whole sordid blue dress affair. She got fired – and won a $600,000 lawsuit as a result of that retaliation by the Clinton administration.

Who Are the Whistleblowers in Protection Laws?

The definition of a whistleblower is a person who tells police, reporters, etc., about something (such as a crime) that has been kept secret; one who reveals something covert or who informs against another. According to the Whistleblower Protection Laws, whistleblowers are protected from retaliation by law.

In a case like Ms. Tripp’s, protection comes in the form of financial compensation, but not until both her reputation and her career fell to ruins. The number two man at the FBI, Mark Felt, kept his identity as Nixon’s whistleblower secret for nearly the rest of his life. Snowden will likely never set foot on U.S. soil again.

It’s no secret you can pay a pretty steep price for being a whistleblower. There will always be stories, some true and some not, about retaliation including everything from being re-assigned to a windowless, basement office to losing jobs and being blacklisted throughout the industry.

What Are Whistleblower Protection Laws?

Whistleblower protection laws are based on the False Claims Act, which was amended by Congress in 1986 to provide protection to people who report abuses, misconduct, and crimes in government agencies.

Originally, whistleblowers had to be federal employees, but this amendment opened the door to private citizen protection as well to encourage transparency and enforcement of laws. There are a variety of different whistleblower protection laws throughout government agencies. They can be federal laws or state laws.

The IRS Whistleblower Program pulled from the Tax Relief and Health Act of 2006, provides rewards to the people who provide first-hand information on tax evasion practices from 15 – 30% of the amount recovered in cases valued at $2 million or more. The Program is intended to encourage citizens to come to the IRS with information about tax evasion.

Whistleblower protection provisions are written into many other laws, offering protection to workers in nearly any industry and government agency. They are continually being added, amended, and updated to provide greater protection against retaliation. For example:

  • OSHA has created whistleblower protection laws to protect those reporting safety violations.
  • The Dodd-Frank Act protects reporters of violation of securities laws.
  • The Presidential Policy Directive 19 protects against retaliation for those in the Intelligence agencies.

If an employer retaliates against an employee for reporting abuse, these laws provide protections, but only if the employee can prove retaliation came as a result of the reporting. The adverse action cannot connect to any other aspect of the employee’s job. This distinction can lead employers to create other reasons for the adverse action taken to dismiss the protection afforded by Whistleblower’s Protection laws.

Is There a Time Limit on Whistleblower Protection Laws?

Whistleblower protection laws do include statutes of limitations regarding time to file a complaint. These time constraints vary according to the industry and the particulars of the violations. Some whistleblower protection laws are state legislation as well as federal statutes, and the statute of limitations does apply. Ten years is the absolute outside limit, but generally, six years from when the offense was committed is considered the limit.

Whistleblower protection laws are complex and variable from situation to situation. It’s important to have an attorney with extensive experience in false claims acts and whistleblowing protection. An attorney who works solely with false claims acts will be an invaluable asset when pursuing a claim, so it’s always wise to consult such an attorney from the very beginning of your case.

Contact the skilled whistleblower protection laws attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today.