April 10, 2019

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Mr. President, thirty years ago today, the Whistleblower Protection Act was signed into law. To call it a triumph doesn’t do justice to the sheer number of years and people it took on both sides of the aisle to overcome numerous obstacles and enact federal protections for federal government employees who step forward and do what we all should do: expose wrongdoings in order to hold government officials and agencies accountable.

Congressional efforts to protect whistleblowers date back to at least 1912 with the enactment of the Lloyd-La Follette Act of 1912. This act guaranteed the right of federal employees to communicate with members of Congress without the oversight of their employer, and prohibited compensation to managers who retaliated against employees attempting to disclose whistleblower matters.

However, empowering Federal employees to speak up and speak the truth was, and continues to be, an ongoing struggle, one that has often pitted Congress against the Executive Branch. When President George H.W. Bush signed the Whistleblower Protection Act into law that April morning in 1989, it came after his predecessor President Ronald Reagan had vetoed a similar bill despite the fact that it had been unanimously adopted by both the Senate and the House.

The Whistleblower Protection Act, itself, was first introduced by Representative Pat Schroeder of Colorado as an amendment to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and then as a stand-alone bill in 1982. The principal purpose of the bill was to block retaliation against employees who came forward, a never-ending problem. The bill would have allowed “a person claiming to be aggrieved by a prohibited personnel practice to: (1) bring a civil action in a U.S. district court against the employee or agency involved (respondent); or (2) seek corrective action through the (Merit Systems Protection) Board.”

While that particular bill ultimately died after receiving unfavorable comments from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Merit Systems Protection Board, which adjudicates whistleblower complaints, its failure didn’t deter our colleagues from persevering. More