The Senate has passed S-582, a reauthorization bill for the Office of Special Counsel designed to strengthen whistleblower protections, including by requiring that agencies to include whistleblower protection in performance evaluations for supervisors and that discipline be proposed against a supervisor found to have taken retaliation.

The proposed disciplinary action would have to be at least a suspension of three days for the first finding of a prohibited personnel action and removal for any subsequent finding.

The bill further would make it a prohibited personnel practice for an agency official to access an employee’s medical records or to take a personnel action because the employee cooperated with an internal agency review or investigation or because the employee refused to obey an order that would require the employee to violate a rule or regulation. It also would clarify that whistleblower protections apply to employees whose primary duties are investigating and disclosing wrongdoing.

It also would require agencies to provide training to supervisors on whistleblower protections and how to respond to an allegation of a violation of whistleblower protection laws, and require agencies to notify an employee of his or her appeals rights when subject to an adverse action including the available forums in which an appeal can be filed and the effect on the employee’s appeal rights based on the selected forum.

The measure also would guarantee the OSC timely access to all agency documents or other information that relate to a matter within its jurisdiction and would clarify that an agency cannot withhold any information on grounds of common law privilege. The attorney general or an inspector general could withhold material if disclosure could interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation or prosecution, with a written report to OSC describing the withheld material and the reason for withholding it.