Washington, DC — On the eve of its 15th anniversary, the federal Whistleblower Protection Act is in shambles, cut apart by limiting court decisions, plagued by long delays with fewer civil servants winning cases than ever before, according to figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On October 10, 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed the Whistleblower Protection Act into law after unanimously passage by both houses of Congress. Congress had passed the same bill in 1988 but President Reagan pocket vetoed the legislation at the end of his last term.
Today, despite a spate of high profile exposés by federal civil servants, the Whistleblower Protection Act has become largely irrelevant:
- Whistleblowers Rarely Win: In the last decade, whistleblowers’ have won only one of 85 decisions on the merits before the Federal Circuit. Since 1999, the Merit Systems Protection Board has ruled against whistleblowers in 25 out of 27 decisions on the merits;
- The Office of Special Counsel Does Not Fight For Whistleblowers: OSC, the agency that is supposed to act as the civil service “cop on the beat” has not sued on behalf of a single whistleblower in recent years. Typically, OSC will dismiss a complaint even when it finds for the whistleblower but the agency does not agree voluntarily to take corrective action; and
- Long Delays for No Results: Nearly a third of OSC’s retaliation cases have been pending for more than 2 years without a result (167 of 598 cases pending in October 2002). This week the General Accounting Office issued a report faulting persistent backlogs at OSC and the absence of a strategy for reducing them.
“By just about every measure, the Whistleblower Protection Act has been a failure,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization represents federal employees who raise public health and environmental and concerns. “The few whistleblowers who ‘win’ their cases do so in spite of and not because of the law.”
The Bush Administration has appointed a new Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, who had been at the Justice Department’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Bloch has vowed to end the backlogs but early indications are that OSC is reducing the backlog by simply dismissing complaints and whistleblower disclosures.
“The performance of the Office of Special Counsel has been far less than special,” commented Ruch, noting that Bloch has yet to take a position on pending legislation [S 1358 (Akaka) and HR. 3281 (Platts)] to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act. “The last survey of federal employees showed that less than 8% of employees seeking help from OSC were even partially satisfied with the results –a customer satisfaction rate that would put any business into bankruptcy.
Read the GAO Report: “U.S. Office of Special Counsel–Strategy for Reducing Persistent Backlog of Cases Should Be provided to Congress” (Issued April 7, 2004)