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Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director
202.457.0034, ext. 124
Shanna Devine, GAP Legislative Campaign Coordinator
202.457.0034 ext. 132
Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director
202.457.0034, ext. 137,
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) praised Senator Daniel Akaka and a bipartisan group of 11 other sponsors for today's introduction of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA).
The legislation, which provides whistleblower protections for federal employees, is identical to that unanimously approved last December by the Senate with one exception - removal of a loophole that would have excluded anti-retaliation protection for disclosures of "trivial" illegality which is minor, inadvertent, and occurs during the conscientious carrying out of official duties.
The bill includes protection for national security whistleblowers that the House removed last December after objections by retiring member Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.), the former ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Although both parties agreed to the removal and the bill passed that chamber unanimously, GAP has learned over the last several weeks that House Republican leadership secretly asked Senate Republican leadership to block the legislation's passage, and the shrunken bill was killed on December 22 by a "secret hold" hours before Congress adjourned (see more below).
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine expressed appreciation for the bipartisan persistence by Senators Akaka, Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa), Joseph Lieberman (I.-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R.-Maine), stating: "These four Senate offices have been a bipartisan 'Good Government Gang of Four' with a marathon commitment since 2000 to pass this reform for both taxpayers and the public servants who defend them against bureaucratic abuses." Devine explained "The whistleblower bill always has had bipartisan public support, but these offices defend whistleblowers behind closed doors as well."
Devine called for quick action on the reform. "There is no excuse for Congress to place any lower priority on rights for those who fight corrupt government misspending, compared to budget cuts generally. Secrecy is the breeding ground for government corruption that only can be sustained if the public is ignorant of the truth. There is no substitute for whistleblowers as the public's, and Congress', eyes and ears to fight fraud, waste and abuse. Whistleblowers risk their professional lives for the last election's campaign rhetoric. This bill will be a litmus test whether new legislators represent a genuine commitment to change, or their victories reflect political false advertising campaigns."
The full text of the legislation can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/hXCcJ0
If approved, the legislation would systematically overhaul free speech rights for government workers. The WPEA:
* Closes judicially-created loopholes to the law's protection, such as canceling the effect of a Supreme Court decision, Garcetti v. Ceballo, which limits federal workers' free speech rights while carrying out job duties.
* Provides those covered by the WPA (current Whistleblower Protection Act) access to jury trials in federal district court to challenge major disciplinary actions.
* Ends the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals monopoly on appellate review of the Whistleblower Protection Act (The Court has single-handedly gutted the WPA, leading to a 3-201 record against whistleblowers for decisions on the merits from October 1994 through July 2009), restoring all-Circuit review, as in the original 1978 Civil Service Reform Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
* Extends WPA rights to some 40,000 airport baggage screeners.
* Provides normal whistleblower rights to those who refuse to violate the law.
* Creates specific protection in the law for scientific freedom, making it an abuse of authority to censor, obstruct dissemination, or misrepresent the results of federal research.
* Removes the loophole that would have excluded anti-retaliation protection for disclosures of "trivial" illegality which is minor, inadvertent, and occurs during the conscientious carrying out of official duties
* Restores the unqualified, original "reasonable belief" standard established in the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act for whistleblowers to qualify for protection.
* Makes permanent and provides a remedy for the anti-gag statute - a rider in the Treasury Postal Appropriations bill for the past 17 years - that bans illegal agency gag orders. The anti-gag statute neutralizes hybrid secrecy categories like "classifiable," "sensitive but unclassified," "sensitive security information" and other new labels that lock in prior restraint secrecy status, enforced by threat of criminal prosecution for unclassified whistleblowing disclosures by national security whistleblowers.
* Provides specific authority for whistleblowers to disclose classified information to Members of Congress on relevant oversight committees or their staff.
* Provides compensatory damages up to $300,000, and reimbursement for expert witness fees to prevailing whistleblowers, establishing consistency with other remedial employment laws.
* Modifies the burdens of proof to make it more realistic for the Office of Special Counsel to seek disciplinary accountability against those who retaliate.
* Provides the Special Counsel with authority to file friend of the court briefs in support of whistleblower rights cases appealed from the administrative level.
The 'Secret Hold' on the WPEA in December
This past weekend, GAP and the NPR show On The Media (OTM) announced an end to their "Blow the Whistle" campaign, which sought to identify which U.S. Senator placed a 'secret hold' during the final hours of the last session of Congress, killing the WPEA. The crowd-sourcing effort, which relied on citizens to contact their respective senators and report back findings, led GAP and OTM to eliminate all but two senators during the three month campaign. A shocking revelation about the 'secret hold' emerged during the campaign. According to GAP, based on multiple sources inside congressional offices, one of the two remaining senators killed the bill at the request of Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.
The complete results of the campaign, with citizen documentation for each senator, can be viewed here: https://www.wnyc.org/blowthewhistle
GAP and OTM are able to confirm, based primarily on information from our supporters and listeners (respectively), that all but two senators were not responsible for the hold on the bill. The final, remaining suspects are Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, and Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Both Senate offices have steadfastly refused to identify which one formally placed the hold. But the distinction is academic. Four times now since 2004, these two senators have taken turns placing holds that blocked Senate action on the WPEA.
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.
"Put simply, Pfizer has plundered health systems for profit," said the People's Vaccine Alliance.
The U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer reported Tuesday that it brought in a record-breaking $100.3 billion in revenue in 2022 and $31.4 billion in profit, sums that campaigners decried as "sickening" in the face of an ongoing pandemic and persistent inequities in coronavirus vaccine access.
"In one year alone, Pfizer's revenue has exceeded the total health expenditures of more than 100 countries combined," Julia Kosgei, policy co-lead for the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement. "If it were a country, Pfizer would sit in the wealthiest third of nation-states. And it has amassed this fortune while jacking up prices on Covid-19 vaccines amid a pandemic that has devastated people’s livelihoods. Put simply, Pfizer has plundered health systems for profit."
Pfizer, led by CEO Albert Bourla, is the manufacturer of one of the two available mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, as well as the oral coronavirus treatment Paxlovid. The company reported $56 billion in sales of its Covid-19 vaccine and Paxlovid, though it said it expects sales to drop in the coming year as it moves to hike prices significantly on its vaccine—a plan that has drawn international alarm and outrage.
Globally, more than 2,600 people are dying from Covid-19 each day on average. According to Our World in Data, just over 26% of people in low-income nations have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose as Pfizer and other pharmaceutical giants refuse to make their vaccine technology available to all—even though it was developed with the help of government funding and scientific advancements.
"Billions of people in developing countries still cannot access affordable Covid-19 medicines," said Kosgei. "Companies like Pfizer are gobbling up ever-greater proportions of health budgets and handing the spoils to wealthy shareholders—all while treating access for developing countries as little more than a PR initiative. We cannot go on like this."
The U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now called Pfizer's record earnings report "sickening."
"With this latest 'all-time high' announcement, Pfizer now has revenues higher than the GDP of 133 countries, including 8 E.U. member states, and is the first pharma company ever to make $100 billion in a year," noted Tim Bierley, the group's pharma campaigner. "But not content with doubling its revenues with a pandemic windfall, they are now still moving to aggressively hike the price of Covid-19 booster doses, putting even more pressure on already struggling public health systems."
"Their latest record-breaking revenues are further proof that the company treated the pandemic as an opportunity to enrich its shareholders," Bierley added. "We can't allow Big Pharma companies to hold us to ransom in this way. We need the government to be bold and break with the monopoly patent model that fails people everywhere. It's time to put people's lives above corporate profit."
"A people-funded vaccine should be cheap and freely available."
Both Pfizer and Moderna have signaled plans to raise the prices of their vaccines to somewhere between $110 to $130 per dose in the U.S. as the Biden administration moves ahead with the commercialization of coronavirus inoculations, tests, and treatments—shifting costs onto patients and insurers and leaving the uninsured to shoulder significant payments.
The U.S. government has previously paid around $30 per dose for Pfizer's vaccine.
In recent days, the Biden administration has faced growing calls to use the federal government's ownership of key patents and other leverage to force Moderna and Pfizer to make their vaccines affordable and readily available to all who want them.
"The Biden administration should not allow Moderna to more than quadruple the price of the Covid vaccine to $130 when it costs just $2.85 to produce," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted on Sunday. "The Covid vaccine must be used to save lives, not to further enrich the billionaire owners of Moderna."
Moderna and Pfizer are also facing backlash from lawmakers overseas over their planned price increases.
In a letter to Bourla and Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel on Tuesday, British MP Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and three other lawmakers wrote that with the National Health Service "already under significant pressure and the costs of medicines increasing year on year, we are extremely concerned about the multiple impacts of a possible price hike."
"Throughout its development, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received huge amounts of public money and support internationally," Lucas wrote. "Even the mRNA technology that Pfizer/BioNTech employed in the Covid-19 vaccine is rooted in decades of publicly funded research. A people-funded vaccine should be cheap and freely available."
Peruvian security forces have met protests against unelected President Dina Boluarte with "indiscriminate violence," the U.S. lawmakers wrote.
Twenty House Democrats on Monday pressed the Biden administration to immediately halt the flow of security funding to the Peruvian government over its vicious crackdown on protests against unelected President Dina Boluarte, who rose to power following the arrest of leftist President Pedro Castillo last month.
Since Castillo's arrest and imprisonment—which drew vocal opposition from political leaders in the region—mass demonstrations have broken out and spread across Peru as largely low-income and Indigenous supporters of Castillo mobilize to demand his release, Boluarte's resignation, and sweeping constitutional reforms. Peru's security forces have swiftly and violently cracked down in an unsuccessful attempt to quell the uprising, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds more.
In a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, a group of House Democrats led by Reps. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) condemned the "indiscriminate violence" and "consistent use of excessive force" by Peruvian security forces and urged the administration to "publicly denounce these ongoing human rights violations."
The lawmakers also called on Biden to pause all security funding to Peru, which amounts to tens of millions of dollars annually. The House Democrats pointed with alarm to the U.S. ambassador to Peru's "recent meeting with the Peruvian minister of defense and announcement of $8 million in further U.S. funding for CORAH, a Peruvian government coca eradication program, which includes funding for forces involved in the egregious human rights violations that are currently taking place."
"We urge your administration to immediately suspend U.S. security assistance to Peru until the violent repression of protests ends and steps are taken by the country's authorities to investigate human rights crimes and prosecute those responsible," the lawmakers wrote.
\u201cThank you to @RepRaulGrijalva, @RepChuyGarcia, @JanSchakowsky and so many other colleagues for joining me in standing with the people of Peru. It is past time to demonstrate a dedication to human rights through actions, not just words.\nhttps://t.co/2joPwBZcBE\u201d— Rep. Susan Wild (@Rep. Susan Wild) 1675120811
Boluarte, who has imposed curfews in several regions and curtailed civil liberties, is urging Peru's conservative-dominated Congress to approve a plan to hold new elections this year instead of in 2024 in an effort to end the demonstrations. Resisting pressure to resign, Boluarte—who served as vice president under Castillo—has pledged to stay on as president until new elections are held.
As Agence France-Presse reported Monday: "Boluarte said that if lawmakers refused to bring forward the vote, she would propose a constitutional reform so that a first round of elections would be held in October and a runoff in December. Demonstrators are calling for immediate elections, as well as Boluarte's removal, the dissolution of Congress, and a new constitution."
In their letter, the 20 House Democrats raised concern that the Biden administration has granted legitimacy and support to the Boluarte government as it rolls back basic freedoms and kills demonstrators.
Less than two weeks after Castillo's arrest, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call with Boluarte in which he
said he "looks forward" to working with her "on shared goals and values related to democracy, human rights, security, anti-corruption, and economic prosperity."
The Democratic lawmakers also pointed to the Biden administration's expressed support for "peace on all sides," a message that the members of Congress called "ambiguous" in the face of massive human rights violations.
"The U.S. government can and must do more," the lawmakers wrote. "We believe our proposed actions would send a powerful signal in support of fundamental rights and help promote effective engagement for a political resolution."
"What is the common vision to guide the Global South out of this crisis?" asked the Progressive International. "What is the plan to win it?"
Delegates to the Havana Congress on the New International Economic Order—a gathering organized by the Progressive International and attended by more than 50 scholars and policymakers from 26 countries across all six inhabited continents—agreed over the weekend on a declaration that outlines a "common vision" for building an egalitarian and sustainable society out of the wreckage of five decades of neoliberal capitalism.
"The crisis of the existing world system can either entrench inequalities," the declaration asserts, or it can "embolden" popular movements throughout the Global South to "reclaim" their role as protagonists "in the construction of a new world order based on justice, equity, and peace."
Delegates resolved to focus their initial efforts on strengthening the development and dissemination of lifesaving technologies in low-income nations.
"Delegates agreed that a key priority must be to secure science and technology sovereignty."
This decision comes one year after Cuban officials announced, at a press conference convened by the Progressive International (PI), their plan to deliver 200 million homegrown Covid-19 vaccine doses to impoverished countries abandoned by their wealthy counterparts and Big Pharma—along with tools to enable domestic production and expert support to improve distribution.
It also comes as Cuba assumes the presidency of the Group of 77 (G77), a bloc of 134 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America where "the combined crises of food, energy, and environment" are escalating, PI noted.
"What is the common vision to guide the Global South out of this crisis?" the coalition asked. "What is the plan to win it? What is the New International Economic Order for the 21st century?"
"After two days of detailed discussions about how to transform our shared world, delegates agreed that a key priority must be to secure science and technology sovereignty," PI general coordinator David Adler said Sunday at the conclusion of the Havana Congress. "From pharmaceuticals to green tech, from digital currencies to microchips, too much of humanity is locked out of both benefiting from scientific advances and contributing to new ones. We will, as today's declaration calls for, work to build 'a planetary bloc led by the South and reinforced by the solidarities of the North' to liberate knowledge and peoples."
Speaking at the January 12 ceremony during which Cuba ascended to the G77 presidency, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla emphasized the need for coordinated action across the Global South on science and tech, arguing that "scientific-technical development is today monopolized by a club of countries that monopolize most of the patents, technologies, research centers, and promote the drain of talent from our countries."
The G77 Summit on Science, Technology, and Innovation, scheduled for September in Havana, seeks to "unite, complement each other, integrate our national capacities so as not to be relegated to future pandemics," said Parrilla.
During his speech on the first day of the Havana Congress, meanwhile, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis called for a new non-aligned movement to "end the legalized robbery of people and Earth fueling climate catastrophe."
\u201cAt the Havana Congress on the New International Economic Order, @yanisvaroufakis calls for a New Non-Aligned Movement to "end the legalised robbery of people and Earth fuelling climate catastrophe."\n\nRead his full speech here: https://t.co/P8zdht8FD9\u201d— Progressive International (@Progressive International) 1674836693
Read the full Havana Declaration on the New International Economic Order:
The Havana Congress,
Recalling the role of the Cuban Revolution in the struggle to unite the Southern nations of the world, and the spirit of the 1966 Havana Tricontinental Conference that convened peoples from Asia, Africa, and Latin America to chart a path to collective liberation in the face of severe global crises and sustained imperial subjugation;
Hearing the echoes of that history today, as crises of hunger, disease, and war once again overwhelm the world, compounded by a rapidly changing climate and the droughts, floods, and hurricanes that not only threaten to inflame conflicts between peoples, but also risk the extinction of humanity at large;
Celebrating the legacy of the anti-colonial struggle, and the victories won by combining a program of sovereign development at home, solidarity for national liberation abroad, and a strong Southern bloc to force concessions to its interests, culminating in the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO);
Acknowledging that the project of decolonization remains incomplete, disrupted by concerted attacks on the unity of the South in the form of wars, coups, sanctions, structural adjustment, and the false promise that sovereign development might be won through integration into a hierarchical world system;
Emphasizing that the result has been the sustained divergence between North and South, characterized by the same dynamics that defined the international economic order five decades prior: the extraction of natural resources, the enclosure of 'intellectual property,' the plunder of structural adjustment, and the exclusion of the multilateral system;
Recognizing that despite these setbacks, the flame of Southern resistance did not die; that the pursuit of sovereign development has yielded unprecedented achievements—from mass literacy and universal healthcare to poverty alleviation and medical innovation—that enable a renewed campaign of Southern cooperation today;
Stressing that this potential for Southern unity is perceived as a threat to Northern powers, which seek once again to preserve their position in the hierarchy of the world system through mechanisms of economic exclusion, political coercion, and military aggression;
Seizing the opportunity of the present historical juncture, when the crisis of the existing world system can either entrench inequalities or embolden the call to reclaim Southern protagonism in the construction of a new world order based on justice, equity, and peace;
The Havana Congress calls to: