In 2013, the legal landscape for defense federal contractors, particularly those working with the Department of Defense, changed regarding the whistleblower protection law. On July 1, 2013, a new law amendment was passed, extending federal whistleblower protections to federal contract employees of vendors who made any eligible report associated with abuse, fraud, or waste of government resources. Before then, thousands upon thousands of contract employees worked alongside regular federal employees but did not share in the same whistleblower protections the regular employees enjoyed – even though they worked in the same agency.
Important Whistleblower Protection Law Changes
The eligibility of protections starts at the moment the vendor employee makes a report of wrongdoing to his or her supervisor. Once the report is made, the supervisor and the vendor are then responsible to act on it if substantiated, and correct the matter.
Prior to the 2013 change, a vendor employee only had three options for reporting:
- The Inspector General (IG) office of the agency the vendor contracted with
- An agency contract manager
- A member of Congress
The IG approach worked under most circumstances, but sometimes vendor staff worked in their own company offices and had no access to an agency contract manager or a member of Congress. The new law was embedded in the annual defense funding legislation of 2013, expanding protections to all Defense contractors and their staff. The intelligence side of government, however, was enacted under a time-limited version of the same protections.
What Does the Whistleblower Law Change Mean?
Before the new law was passed, defense contractor employees faced the potential of being fired on the spot with no warning and no recourse. They had none of the protections available to federal civil employees.
They weren’t left helpless though – they had (and still have) rights under the Federal False Claims Act, a separate federal law. The False Claims Act allows private citizens to bring recovery lawsuits against contractors if the Department of Justice refuses to carry the case itself. Of course, that right couldn’t keep a whistleblower from being fired first – and without an income, pursuing the case would be tough. Many attorneys will only represent a whistleblower if their fees are paid up-front, rather than taking the case on a contingency basis.
Expanded Investigation Powers in Whistleblower Cases
From an investigation perspective, the 2013 law changed the landscape of the Inspector General’s reach as well. Prior to the law, the IG’s hands were tied when it came to getting the facts of the case.
Under the new law, the IG’s staff can interview far more vendor witnesses than before to seek evidence of retaliation. No surprise, the Whistleblower Protection Law change is expected to increase the number of reports as defense vendor employees become aware of the new protections. This could turn out to be a big deal, because overall, defense contractor staff significantly outnumbers federal civil employees in the same programs and agencies.
To understand in detail how the recent Whistleblower Protection Law changes impact your company, call for a free consultation today. We can discuss how this new law impacts employees of contractors.