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New whistleblower law protects federal employees

After years of trying, the House and Senate finally passed and President Obama signed the "Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012," which amends whistleblower protections for federal employees. Previous attempts to pass enhanced whistleblower protection had failed due to political "backroom" maneuvering.

The presidential signing statement notes that the new law better explain the scope of protected disclosures, the requirements for non-disclosure agreements, increases penalties imposed for violating whistleblower protections and in some agencies, establishes a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsmen.

According to Tom Divine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project, "This reform took 13 years to pass because it can make so much difference against fraud, waste and abuse. Government managers at all levels made pleas and repeatedly blocked the bill through procedural sabotage."

Some of the improvements provided for in the law now allow whistleblowing when the federal employees are not the first person to report misconduct. They also can report on matters that are connected to their job duties, which court precedent had previously prohibited.

Another significant change will be the removal of exclusive jurisdiction in the Federal Circuit, a federal court of appeal located in Washington, D.C. that was generally hostile to claims by whistleblowers. The Court has ruled in favor of whistleblowers on the merits only three times out 229 cases from October 1994 - May 2012, according to the Government Accountability Project.

The law still has some gaps, as the House eliminated much of the protection for employees of security agencies and whistleblowers still are not entitled to a jury trial, but the law represents an important advance for the rights of federal employee whistleblowers.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Obama Signs Whistleblower Protection Bill into Law," Samuel Rubenfeld, November 27, 2012

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