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Congress considering whistleblower protections for Peace Corps volunteers

Legislation under consideration in Congress would expand protections for whistleblowing by Peace Corps volunteers.

A push to enact legal protections for Peace Corps volunteers who disclose issues of concern in the federal agency like mismanagement, dangerous working conditions, illegal activity and others. Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2023 in their respective houses of Congress. The Act, if passed as written, would create protections against retaliation and reprisal for volunteers who engage in whistleblowing activity.

Status of the bill

As of this writing on Sept. 2, 2023, the Act is ready for consideration by the full Senate, having passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a bipartisan basis in July. It is now on the Senate legislative calendar as a general order. In the House, the bill remains before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it landed on March 1, 2023.

Leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a July 13 press release in support of the Act having passed through the committee. Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) lauded the bill, including its “improved whistleblower protections …” The chairman of the National Whistleblower Center said, “This will protect Peace Corps volunteers and the American people, by permitting these volunteers to lawfully report waste, fraud and abuse.”

Whistleblower provisions

Section 10 of the proposed Act would legal remedies for agency volunteers experiencing reprisal or retaliation for protected reporting activity:

  • If a volunteer has “reasonable belief” in and reports or discloses “information pertaining to waste, fraud, abuse of authority, misconduct, mismanagement, violations of law, or a significant threat to health and safety,” the law would establish a process for reporting reprisals or retaliation against the volunteer for the reporting.
  • The Act would prohibit such reprisal or retaliation, defined as “taking, threatening to take, or initiating adverse administrative action” against the whistleblower.
  • The Act would create a process for a whistleblower to lodge a complaint or an allegation of reprisal or retaliation with the Inspector General of the Peace Corps or other provided channels, followed by investigation and recommendations.
  • Legal “relief” for a protected whistleblower would include “all affirmative relief necessary to make a volunteer whole, including monetary compensation, equitable relief, compensatory damages, and attorney fees and costs.” Relief would need to be prompt.
  • The law would also establish processes for mediation and for appeals.

This is a broad overview of the proposed law, which could still face amendment in the legislative process. We will pay attention to the Act as it moves through Congress. In the meantime, anyone facing whistleblower retaliation as a Peace Corps volunteer or employee should consult with an experienced federal employment attorney to understand what legal relief may be available.