Republican leaders in Congress on civil service issues have sent an unusual letter to the White House saying that “protecting whistleblowers is crucial to your success and the oversight process. We stand ready to assist the administration in its efforts to root out waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in the federal government, and to protect the best tool for doing so–whistleblowers.” The letter recounted the various laws enacted over the years designed to strengthen whistleblower protections, including those protecting the rights of employees to communicate directly with members of Congress. “Thus, protecting whistleblowers who courageously speak out is not a partisan issue–it is critical to the functioning of our government,” said the letter, signed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, among others. The letter asked the White House legal counsel’s office to examine recently issued policies at some agencies widely interpreted as gag orders in light of those interests. The letter came as Chaffetz’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to review the most recent major revision to whistleblower law, enacted in 2012. The Office of Special Counsel–which also has called attention recently to whistleblower protections and the potential impact of gag orders–recommended further strengthening its powers to: compel agencies to produce information during investigations into alleged retaliation; protect former federal employees from being “blacklisted” from future employment through negative job references; and protect employees from retaliation for cooperating with internal agency investigations, in addition to current protections for those who cooperate with OSC or IG office investigations. Meanwhile, the committee passed HR-657, to clarify that protections against retaliation extend to refusal to follow orders that would require an employee violate a rule or regulation, not just a law; and HR-702, to bar nondisclosure policies or agreements which restrict an employee from disclosing activity that is subject to whistleblower protection. It postponed consideration of several other bills, including one to generally bar those with seriously delinquent tax debt from federal employment.
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