Congressional Employees Do Not Receive Protection


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While Qui Tam laws protect whistleblowers in many industries, those working in the legislative branch do not benefit from the same protections.  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (see recent article) is fighting to extend such protections to Congressional employees.  Last year, Senator Grassley and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act to amend the Congressional Accountability Act in order to extend whistleblower protections to those in the legislative branch.  Grassley hopes to give legislative branch employees the same protections as executive branch employees.  Grassley stated that “‘Compliance isn’t just something to check off a list once, but it should be a daily effort to be sure the Senate is abiding by the law.’”  In order to ensure that Congress abides by the law, Grassley’s act would make it easier for legislative employees to report wrongful behavior and not withhold information for fear of losing their job or potential lawsuits.  Representative Todd Platts (R-PA) explained that “‘Being a whistleblower takes courage…Any federal employee, including those who work in the legislative branch, who sees the wrongful and unethical conduct in the workplace, should be able to report such conduct without fear of losing their job.’” Grassley is trying to make this happen. (See our blog on why being a whistleblower takes courage.)

Currently legislative employees can report problems to the Ethic Committees in the House or the Senate or to the Office of Compliance, but they are not protected from losing their jobs or potential lawsuits.  This lack of security for employees has caused the Office of Compliance to call for such protections to be extended to Congressional employees for more than 10 years.  Despite this request, similar laws to Grassley’s have been offered in the previous 3 Congresses but none have made it out of Committee.   Grassley’s Act is stuck in committee as well, as it has been introduced and referred to committee but has not been reported by committee.

However the problem runs deeper than a lack of protection.  Some state that employees are not very willing to blow the whistle because they are loyal to their employers.  According to Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight, “‘Congressional aides have this weird disincentive not to raise their hands as a whistleblower….Loyalty is so valued by the member, and staff are the ones who see all the ugly underbelly that a politician doesn’t want made public.’”  In some cases, loyalty combined with a lack of protection has prevented legislative employees from reporting on wrongful behavior.  Even if the Act is passed it is questionable as to whether security for whistleblowing will trump loyalty.  However, “Recent cases suggest that aids could be invaluable sources to report violations behind congressional office doors—if they have the gumption to come forward,” according to Politico.

Recent cases include charges against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) for violating House ethics for her interactions with a bank receiving bailout money and Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY), who is accused of inappropriate behavior with male staff members.  Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) is under investigation to find out whether he used his influence to boost the career of his mistress’s husband.

Lovely, Erika. “Congress delays on whistleblowers.” Politico. 17 August 2010.
“S. 474: Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act of 2009.” 111th Congress.

See Our Blog on This Topic: “Shouldn’t We All Be Equally Protected?”




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