April 18, 2011

Proposed Federal Whistleblower Legislation Would Create Ombuds Programs

A bipartisan group of senators has reintroduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act to bolster protection for government employees. Among other things Senate Bill 743 would establish Whistleblower Protection Ombudsmen to educate agency personnel about whistleblower rights.  The proposed programs would be affiliated with inspectors general in non-intelligence agencies.

S.743 provides in relevant part:

(a) In General- Section 3 of the Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.) is amended by striking subsection (d) and inserting the following:

‘(d)(1) Each Inspector General shall, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations governing the civil service--

‘(A) appoint an Assistant Inspector General for Auditing who shall have the responsibility for supervising the performance of auditing activities relating to programs and operations of the establishment;

‘(B) appoint an Assistant Inspector General for Investigations who shall have the responsibility for supervising the performance of investigative activities relating to such programs and operations; and

‘(C) designate a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman who shall educate agency employees--

‘(i) about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures; and

‘(ii) who have made or are contemplating making a protected disclosure about the rights and remedies against retaliation for protected disclosures.

‘(2) The Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman shall not act as a legal representative, agent, or advocate of the employee or former employee.

‘(3) For the purposes of this section, the requirement of the designation of a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman under paragraph (1)(C) shall not apply to--

‘(A) any agency that is an element of the intelligence community (as defined in section 3(4) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 401a(4))); or

‘(B) as determined by the President, any executive agency or unit thereof the principal function of which is the conduct of foreign intelligence or counter intelligence activities.’.
The bill was introduced on April 6th and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The Washington Post notes that the bill has been around for almost a dozen years and is skeptical about its prospects. (Open Congress, Washington Post.)

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