An estimated 12 million people who receive federal grants and contracts will now also receive whistle-blower protections and legal recourse under a new defense bill sent to President Barack Obama in December.
The $633-billion bill, which passed the Senate 81-14, covers the cost of aircraft, ships, weapons, military personnel, Energy Department nuclear defense programs, and the war in Afghanistan. It also contains provisions that would help protect these federal funds against fraud and waste while offering whistle blowers better protections in reporting abuse.
Under the new bill, workers who are fired or harassed for reporting fraud, waste, abuse, and ethical lapses can report retaliatory actions taken against them to government watchdogs or the courts, which could take measures to stop the harassment or reinstate whistleblowers to their jobs.
The new, permanent legal protections extend to workers of Defense Department contractors, subcontractors. The same protections are also being extended to all federal contractors and grant recipients on a four-year experimental basis, with the exception of those working for federal intelligence agencies. Congressional investigators will study how the whistleblower protections are working and reassess them at the end of the trial period.
The new measures will help shield whistle-blowers who disclose information and evidence of financial fraud and other illegal activity, gross waste, gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, and substantial threats to public health and safety. Whistleblowers who experience a backlash can file a retaliation complaint with inspectors general of the appropriate agency. Inspectors can investigate the claims and make recommendations to agency heads.
Whistle blowers whose claims are not remedied by their agency may take their case to U.S. District court, where it will be decided by a jury. Whistle blowers taking legal action will have three years to take their complaint to federal court.