The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director
202.457.0034, ext. 124

Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Dir.
202.457.0034, ext. 137

GAP Hails New D.C. Whistleblower Protection Law

Free Speech Shield Praised as Nation’s Strongest


The Government Accountability Project
(GAP) praised D.C. City Councilmember Mary Cheh for her leadership regarding
the unanimous approval of the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Amendment Act of
2009. The significant good government reform went into effect today after
congressional review.

"Thanks to Councilmember
Cheh, Washington, D.C.
again has the nation's strongest whistleblower protection law,"
concluded GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. GAP led outside efforts for the
law's passage, in partnership with leading whistleblower rights attorney
Jason Zuckerman.

In 1998, Washington,
D.C. passed the nation's
best whistleblower law in response to sustained corruption scandals. Over the last
five years, however, these protections deteriorated quickly. The erosion came
from hostile judicial activism that gutted statutory rights. These local
rulings reflect similar deterioration of the Federal Whistleblower Protection

"Congress has been trying to revive federal
whistleblower law for the last decade. Thanks to Councilmember Cheh, Washington
D.C. did it in a year,"
added Devine.

The new law adds the following protections for Washington, D.C.
government employee and contractor whistleblowers:

  • Protection
    for Job-Related Speech
    : Many government workers' jobs require
    them to expose wrongdoing as part of their positions (such as auditors,
    investigators and inspectors). These workers are targets for retaliation when
    the catch criminal activity, or force a major political donor to comply
    with public health and safety standards. That is why their jobs may be the
    government's most significant. Recently, courts have ruled that
    whistleblower rights do not apply to such speech. The new law restores
    government workers' rights to act as public servants, rather than
    bureaucratic "yes men" whose free speech rights are limited to
    parroting the government's party line.
  • Anti-gag
    The legislation protects the City Council's "right to know"
    by banning agencies from spending taxpayer money to restrict employees
    from communicating with the Council. Safe channels for the free flow of
    information are a prerequisite for effective oversight. The anti-gag
    provision is quite strong, with supervisors who censor their employees
    personally liable to repay the Treasury for their illegal spending.
  • Retaliatory
    Witch hunts are the oldest, ugliest form of harassment against
    whistleblowers, and nearly always the foundation for further retaliation
    to finish off the target's career.
  • Statute
    of Limitations
    The new law extends the current one year limit to three years, conforming
    to best practices on the issue.
  • Right
    not to violate the Law
    : Whistleblowers now cannot be retaliated against
    for refusing to obey an illegal order.
  • Training: A major impediment to the impact
    of whistleblower laws is that employees are not aware of their rights. The
    law now will require supervisors to brief employees on hiring of their
    whistleblower rights.
  • Accountability: Under current law, supervisors or
    those ordered to retaliate have not had anything significant to lose by
    doing the dirty work of retaliation. The law increases the penalties for
    illegal retaliation from $1,000 to $10,000.
  • Protection
    for contractors
    Under current law, workers at D.C. government contractors are protected
    from retaliation by their employer. But there is no protection for the
    contractor itself against D.C. government retaliation if the firm blows
    the whistle on associated corruption. For years this has been a serious
    problem, as contractors could not do business without providing kickbacks
    demanded by corrupt bureaucrats. Under the new law, those companies can
    blow the whistle and have the same anti-retaliation rights as an employee.
    This is a good government breakthrough, not found in any other federal,
    state or local whistleblower law.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.