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'Just What the Doctor Ordered': Bill Would Protect Whistleblowers Who Sound Alarm Over Abuse of Covid-19 Relief Funds

"This is a major step forward."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attends the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Hearings to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 10, 2020.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attends the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Hearings to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 10, 2020. (Photo: Al Drago/AFP/Getty Images)

Transparency advocates welcomed the introduction of a new bill by Democratic lawmakers specifically designed to protect whistleblowers who expose corruption or fraud related to the allocation or use of federal coronavirus relief funds.

The bicameral bill, introduced Monday by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in the Senate along with Reps. Jackie Spier (D-Calif.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) in the House, aims to open the door to ensuring those with information on the money can speak out without fear of reprisals.

"The Covid-19 Whistleblower Protection Act is just what the doctor ordered for accountability of stimulus spending programs, whether the funding is to save lives or save businesses," said Government Accountability Project legal director Tom Devine. "Inspectors General credit whistleblower protection in the 2009 stimulus bill for minimizing fraud, waste and abuse when the government injected hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy. Now that the government is injecting trillions, whistleblowers are more essential than ever as the human factor that is America’s best weapon against corruption."

The dispersal of coronavirus relief funds from stimulus packages passed by Congress in response to the economic crisis sparked by the pandemic has been a source of frustration and anger for Democrats and progressives who have found Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's secrecy around the allocation of over $500 billion in government cash confounding. Monday's bill aims to open the door to ensuring those with information on the money can speak out without fear of reprisals.

"We know that large, profitable corporations that are taking these funds are not using them to protect workers, but to line their own pockets," Public Citizen Worker Health and Safety advocate Juley Fulcher said in a statement. "Since the administration is trying to hide information about who is getting small business funds, whistleblowers are even more important to rooting out wrongdoing related to the bailout."

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According to attorney Stephen M. Kohn, a partner at a firm that specializes in whistleblower protections, the new legislation "permits whistleblowers who suffer retaliation to report Covid-19 related violations, file a case in federal court, and obtain compensatory and exemplary damages."

"This is a major step forward," Kohn said. 

Kohn added that he hoped the GOP would express support for the legislation and get on board. 

"We hope that the Republican caucus will join in this reform effort and endorse strong protections for whistleblowers," said Kohn. "Whistleblower protection is a bi-partisan issue and has historically enjoyed strong support from both Democrats and Republicans."

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