Our organizations, members of the Professionals for the Public Interest coalition, are concerned about the federal policies that deal with the rights and responsibilities of whistleblowers who, at risk to their own careers, bring important information to the attention of the public and policymakers. The current patchwork of 43 laws administered by 18 agencies is not providing an open, transparent, fair system for employees struggling with difficult decisions about how they can fulfill their professional responsibilities when faced with inappropriate or illegal activities.
While many laws address whistleblower protection, in many cases the rights have been largely symbolic and sometimes counterproductive. Employees have risked retaliation thinking they had genuine protection, when in reality there was no realistic chance they could maintain their careers. The current system applies, often arbitrarily, different standards for legal review of the same activity. Moreover, significant and arbitrary gaps in protection remain.
● An assessment done by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) observes that an employee at a meat packing plant has whistleblower rights when challenging the release of fecally-contaminated water flowing into a river. But that same employee has no rights when disclosing the shipment of similarly contaminated meat and poultry to a supermarket’s butcher case.
● GAP further indicated that an employee of a pharmaceutical company has protection for disclosing false statements in financial reports to shareholders. But there is no protection for challenging false statements to the government or the public about potentially lethal drug safety hazards.
Our organizations came together to assure that professionals are not asked to compromise or ignore professional standards; to put personal or public safety at risk; or to alter, downplay or withhold research data or findings. We also share a belief that professionals need to guard against misrepresentation of research or scientific information when disseminating reports, communications or other public items; suppression, censoring or impeding access to information; and exclusion of diverse evidence-based perspectives from research dialogues and discourse.
When these standards are challenged, professionals often have a responsibility to act in their codes of professional conduct. Recently, legislation has been proposed to establish a strong, uniform, and clear system of legal protections for employees who are retaliated against for disclosing threats to public safety or violations of federal laws on issues ranging from consumer protection standards, to homeland and energy security, to food and drug safety. Our organizations encourage Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to simplify and improve whistleblower protections to assure the appropriate functioning of our public and private entities.