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Public advocacy saves whistleblowers from administrative minefield

Great news out of Congress: legislators in the House of Representatives negotiating the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act have decided to scrap the provision that would give the Merit Systems Protection Board summary judgment powers.

Here’s a detailed writeup why this would have been a bad deal for whistleblowers; in short, it would have prejudiced many whistleblowers with agencies’ sophisticated legal maneuvering that would have denied them the ability to tell their side of the story to a third party.

What made this happen? As stated by Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, in a community conference call earlier today: sustained public protest.

“Congress heard you,” Devine said.

What lessons can we draw from this? Simply put, public outcry works. Backroom negotiations do not.

Devine also told the community that jury trials are off the table, and Senators Kyl and Sessions are demanding that even if bench trials are introduced, agencies should still have an easier time defeating whistleblower complaints. This is disappointing because the original deal was that if jury trials are introduced, then agencies’ burden of proof is lowered (to preponderance of the evidence), but if bench trials are introduced, the burden of proof stays the same (clear and convincing evidence).

Kyl and Sessions are reneging on their promise.

The already-passed Senate version of the WPEA contains this very compromise: jury trials and preponderance of the evidence standard. The initial House version contained the other compromise: bench trials and clear and convincing evidence standard.

If clear and convincing evidence is good enough for an MSPB judge, it should be good enough for a federal district judge. (It should be also good enough for a jury, but that point’s moot).

Kyl and Sessions should answer why they reneged on their earlier promise.

How do we seek change?

Look to the summary judgment example.

Finally, we should expect Congress to pass the WPEA in September, Devine said.

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