By LAUREN C. WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON (March 12, 2009)—Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, is taking another crack at protecting federal employees who report their employers' wrongs.
Van Hollen, along with Reps. Ed Towns, D-N.Y.; Todd Platts, R-Pa.; and Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, reintroduced the Whistleblower Protection Act to Congress Thursday afternoon, after it failed to make it into the final stimulus bill last month.
The act passed as a House amendment but it was stripped in negotiations with the Senate. The provision would make it easier for federal and state employees to report potentially dishonest activity without suffering consequences from employers.
Van Hollen said the act, notable for its bipartisan support, was left out not because of what it does, but because of the bill it was appended to—the stimulus bill.
The Senate, specifically Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, thought that adding the act to an economic recovery package was inappropriate, said Van Hollen.
"We thought there wasn't a more appropriate moment" to pass the legislation with billions of taxpayers' dollars being disbursed, said Van Hollen.
The act is "absolutely essential for protection" of federal and state employees and stimulus monies, said Van Hollen.
The Whistleblower Act would protect federal and state whistleblowers who report fraud, abuse and misuse of funds by lessening their burden of proof when going to trial and simplifying the judicial process with more transparency.
"The whole idea is to ensure that they have a fair hearing," Van Hollen said. "The current system is actually stacked against them" with the "insurmountable burden of proof" they have to provide.
"Federal employees are on the frontlines" in terms of spending stimulus funds, said Van Hollen, who highlighted the importance of national security whistleblowers, contractors and scientists.
"It's inexcusable to let the spending start without letting the whistleblowers keep it honest," said Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project in a previous interview after learning about the act's removal from the stimulus bill.
"Almost half of federal employees say they witness some form of government misconduct, but are afraid to report it," said Stephen Kohn, president of the National Whistleblowers Center.
"Without protecting the employees, they're not going to stick their necks out," Kohn said. "It's especially of use in earmarks" when employees are reluctant to report on a member of Congress.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.