The White House on Tuesday urged Congress to take up a long-stalled effort to enhance protections for government whistle-blowers as part of a larger multinational project to promote government transparency joined by President Barack Obama at the United Nations.
Members of the Open Government Partnership — which include the governments of the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom and organizations in Kenya, Mexico, India and Tanzania, among others — have pledged to increase the availability of information about government activities, encourage civic participation and use technology to promote the sharing of government data.
Each participating country will make an action plan that sets forth specific commitments to establish and build on open government initiatives.
“We recognize that countries are at different stages in their efforts to promote openness in government, and that each of us pursues an approach consistent with our national priorities and circumstances and the aspirations of our citizens,” the partnership’s founding declaration said.
The action plan for the United States includes steps it will take to modernize government records, improve access to records through the Freedom of Information Act, declassify national security information and expand protections for whistle-blowers who report wrongdoing, waste or fraud within the federal government.
“Recently, Congress nearly enacted legislation that would eliminate loopholes in existing protections, provide protections for employees in the intelligence community, and create pilot programs to explore potential structural reforms,” the plan submitted by the United States read. “Statutory reform is preferable, but if Congress remains deadlocked, the administration will explore options for utilizing executive branch authority to strengthen and expand whistleblower protections.”
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act was killed during the last Congress when an undisclosed Senator put a “secret hold” on the legislation just before the Senate adjourned. After the Senate unanimously approved the package earlier, the House weakened certain national security provisions. When the Senate took up the revised legislation, it faltered despite broad bipartisan support.
The bill was reintroduced in April by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
Akaka on Tuesday praised Obama’s push to reform whistle-blower laws.
“I am pleased the President and his administration reaffirmed their strong commitment to passing my Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act this Congress. If we are to make real progress to reduce the deficit, we must empower whistleblowers to uncover waste, fraud and abuse,” Akaka said in a statement.
Obama’s statement coincided with a lobbying effort spearheaded by the Government Accountability Project. Participants in a coalition called the Washington Whistleblower Assembly took to the Hill on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to take action on the enhanced whistle-blower-protection bill.