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Speier, Raskin, Harris Introduce Legislation Ensuring Protection for Those Who Expose Waste, Fraud, Abuse in Federal COVID-19 Relief Effort

June 15, 2020
Press Release

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) –  Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) today introduced the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act, legislation that will ensure whistleblower protections for people who expose misuse of government funds intended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Speier, Raskin, and Harris also applaud the inclusion of their whistleblower protections in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics (CORE) Act.

“Whistleblowers are truth tellers. They have moral compasses and their conviction saves American taxpayer billions of dollars each year. Frontline workers have been the true heroes of this pandemic, and we must protect those who have the courage to come forward to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse. I am proud to introduce the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act to ensure employees who come forward to report wrongdoing related to the pandemic can do so with confidence that the law is on their side and the recognition they deserve for their grit and fortitude,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, co-chair of the of the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Caucus.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic devastates lives and livelihoods across the nation, our people desperately need the financial aid provided by the CARES Act and other pandemic response bills,” said Rep. Raskin. “We cannot afford to have these precious relief dollars swept up by scammers, conmen and cheats. We must give real protection to whistleblowers who are brave enough to speak out when they see our tax dollars being misused or stolen. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation so we can tell potential whistleblowers we have their backs when they bravely speak up for America’s taxpayers and all those so badly hurt by COVID-19.”

“The American people must be able to trust that pandemic relief funds are providing much-needed assistance to the American people,” said Senator Harris. “Those working to help manage these funds have an obligation to speak truth when they see wrongdoing, and deserve to be protected when they do. I am proud to introduce the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act– this critical legislation ensures relief funds are used for their intended purpose, and not abused by corporate executives.”

The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act:

  • Institutes strong whistleblower protections for employees or former employees of recipients of funds under the CARES Act or other similar legislation meant to address COVID-19.
  • Protects disclosures related to relief funds that stand as evidence of gross mismanagement or waste, danger to public health or safety, abuse of authority, or violation of law, rule or regulation.
  • Creates a legal framework that provides administrative relief in which the Department of Labor can investigate whistleblower retaliation claims from non-federal employees or contractors under a strengthened legal framework.
  • If administrative relief is not timely provided, whistleblowers will have access to jury trials in federal court, a best practice standard for modern whistleblower protection laws.
  • Protects whistleblower confidentiality and protect against gag orders.

In addition to Speier and Raskin, co-sponsors of the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act are Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Kathleen M. Rice (NY-04), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

In addition to Harris, co-sponsors of the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act are Senators original Senate co-sponsors of the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act are Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

The bill is endorsed by American Civil Liberties Union, ACORN 8, Government Accountability Project, National Whistleblower Center, Public Citizen, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Project on Government Oversight, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and Whistleblowers of America.

“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 saves businesses. 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,” said Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project.

“Transparency and accountability for COVID-19 relief funds are absolutely critical if we want to ensure that relief is going to communities in need and not fraudsters or opportunists. Employees of fund recipients are poised to witness and expose misconduct related to COVID-relief funds early and often, but we cannot and should not expect individuals to speak out against employer misconduct if they won't be protected for doing so and especially not in a time of crisis. POGO thanks Congresswoman Speier, Congressman Raskin, Senator Harris, and their staff for working to ensure that whistleblowers can expose abuses of public trust around the coronavirus response without losing their livelihood in the process,” said Rebecca Jones, Policy Counsel, Project on Government.

A copy of the bill text is available here and a one pager on the bill is available here.

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