COMMENTARY | Stronger Whistleblower Protections for Government Contractors

Colleen Teubner

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We Must Support Stronger Whistleblower Protections for Government Contractors

Government contractors who blow the whistle on agency misconduct may finally join the ranks of their public employee counterparts in enjoying the same protections.

Earlier this year, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced a bi-partisan bill that would strengthen whistleblower protections for government contractors.

Currently, federal law provides protection for employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, or grantees against retaliation or discrimination for disclosing information reasonably believed to be evidence of gross mismanagement of a federal contract or grant, an abuse of authority relating to a federal contract or grant, a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a federal contract or grant.

While the current law provides basic support for government contractors, the Expanding Whistleblower Protections for Contractors Act of 2023 (S.1524) would:

  • Better shield contractors who blow the whistle against retaliation by government officials or competitor misconduct;
  • Protect whistleblowers from retaliation when reporting misconduct occurring internationally;
  • Safeguard government contractor workers against retaliation for refusing to violate the law;
  • Provide jury trials to seek justice in some states, reducing enforcement of anti-retaliation rights;
  • Protect whistleblowers against blacklisting that can leave them unemployable;
  • Guard against unconventional reprisals such as retaliatory lawsuits or criminal prosecutions;
  • Ensure government disciplinary accountability for retaliators; and
  • Include intelligence community contractors from protection.

PEER has long supported efforts to close loopholes and strengthen protections for government contractors. As part of a broad, trans-ideological good government coalition known as the Make It Safe Coalition, PEER, Government Accountability Project, National Security Counselors, Project On Government Oversight, Public Citizen, and Whistleblowers of America are coordinating efforts to advocate for much-needed reform of the government contractor whistleblower law.

Unfortunately, the bill has a few hurdles to overcome before it can be ratified into law. Government contractors, who in the past have succeeded in undermining whistleblower protections for their employees, strongly oppose this bill and are out in full force lobbying against it. This legislation is due for markup in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs in November 2023.

PEER and the Make It Safe Coalition will be working hard to build support for this legislation. In order to ensure that the Expanding Whistleblower Protections for Contractors Act of 2023 stands a chance of becoming law, voters must look to the track records of their Senators to make sure they can go the distance and encourage them to support this important legislation.

Colleen TeubnerColleen Teubner is a Litigation and Policy Attorney at PEER and a lover of backpacking, books, and board games.

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