A bill sponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill to make permanent a pilot program applying whistleblower protections to contractors, subcontractors, grant recipients, and subgrantees has been passed by the House and Senate. It applies the program’s protection from retaliation to nearly all civilian employees except for the intelligence community.
The pilot program was set to expire in January 2017. It has been used by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General to investigate alleged retaliation at the Hanford nuclear facility.
The DOE has the largest civilian contracting workforce in the federal government. A Government Accountability Office report about whistleblower protections for Department of Energy contractors before the pilot program noted that the program was difficult to navigate without legal assistance. It also found that the enforcement authority was only “infrequently used” with two violation notices in twenty years.
The bill also prohibits the reimbursement of contractors for the legal fees they accrue in defending themselves from whistleblower retaliation claims.
The bill unanimously passed through the U.S. Senate in June and was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives a few days ago. It is headed to President Obama’s desk and he is expected to sign it into law.
Its adoption comes only a few weeks after a $125 million settlement with a contractor and subcontractor at the Hanford nuclear facility concerning allegations of charging the DOE for deficient nuclear quality materials, services and testing at the waste treatment plant.
The text of the legislation is available here.