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July 30th, 2009
Senate panel OKs whistleblower bill, delays vote on USPS aid
July 29, 2009
Most federal whistleblowers would gain the right to jury trials if they are retaliated against for exposing waste and fraud, under a bill passed by a Senate committee Wednesday.
“This significantly strengthens protections of whistleblowers,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., of the bill, which allows federal employees’ complaints of retaliation to be heard in federal court instead of before the Merit Systems Protection Board.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the bill, S 372, by voice vote. The bill would also grant whistleblower protections to Transportation Security Administration employees for the first time, and it would create a presidentially appointed board to hear retaliation claims from intelligence agency employees.
A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said the “good government” bill creates a system where employees feel safe to reveal misdeeds they observe in the workplace.
“If federal whistleblowers are not protected while reporting waste, fraud, abuse and illegal activities, most won’t take the risk and report,” Akaka said.
McCaskill said she would have liked even stronger whistleblower protections, especially for contractors who are involved in spending hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.
“There is some relief for federal contractors, but we need to continue to clean up the patchwork of whistleblower laws as it relates to contractors,” McCaskill said.
Postal bill
The committee also debated but delayed its vote on S 1507, the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Funding Reform Act. The bill reduces the amount the Postal Service must pay into its retiree health benefits fund from nearly $5 billion a year to about $1.7 billion in 2009 and 2010.
A House version of the bill suspends those payments for three years; Postal Service officials have said they can’t make the current payment schedule with a $7 billion deficit projected this year.
Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the Postal Service desperately needs the influx of cash.
But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the Postal Service “has a failed business model” and has failed to keep up with technology and what customers demand of the mail. He said management, unions and employees need to be willing to make cuts and change the way the Postal Service operates if it hopes to succeed.
“If we keep trying to fix things thinking the formal model of the Postal Service is going to work, we’re never going to fix things,” Coburn said.
The committee did adopt several amendments to the Postal Service bill, including one offered by Coburn to allow arbitrators to consider the Postal Service’s fiscal state when arbitrating with unions.
Other bills
In other action, the committee approved by voice vote the nomination of Christine Griffin as deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management. Her nomination moves to the full Senate for confirmation.
The committee also approved the following bills by a voice vote:
• S 736, Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act. The bill encourages agencies to improve diversity in hiring, by requiring agencies to develop strategic workforce plans and requiring the Office of Personnel Management to maintain a list of applicants for federal jobs.
• S 806, Federal Executive Board Authorization Act. The bill authorizes funding for Federal Executive Boards nationwide.
• S 872, Effective Homeland Security Management Act. The bill replaces the Homeland Security Department’s undersecretary for management with a deputy secretary for management, strengthening the office’s role as chief management officer and adviser to the DHS secretary.
• HR 885, Improved Financial and Commodity Markets Oversight and Accountability Act. This bill requires inspectors general for the Federal Reserve, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, National Credit Union Association, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and the Securities and Exchange Commission to be appointed by the president.
• S 1508, Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act. The bill requires agency heads to periodically review all programs and activities to identify any significant improper payments.
 

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