The 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.