Three Senators introdued legislation this week that would expand whistleblower protections for whistleblowers at the Department of Energy.
Introduced by Ron Wyden (D-OR), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the Department of Energy Whistleblower Accountability Act (S. 3394) is being introduced in response to a GAO report which found that whistleblower protections are generally lacking at DOE.
One of the primary objectives of the bill is to add whistleblower disclosures about waste, fraud and abuse to legally protected whistleblower activities at DOE. Currently, whistleblower protections under the Energy Reorganization Act are limited to disclosing safety violations.
The bill would also require contractors to pay legal and administrative costs in wrongful termination cases unless the contractors can show the DOE contributed to or caused the retaliation.
Currently, the DOE usually pays legal costs on behalf of its contractors when whistleblowers file complaints against the agency, which the Senators say has the effect of removing the incentive for the contractor to resolve employee complaints. Additionally, the bill would allow the Department of Labor to assess punitive damages against contractors found to have retaliated against whistleblowers.
The bill would also extend the amount of time employees can file a complaint with the DOE from six months to one year and allow whistleblowers to seek a jury trial in federal court if the DOE does not complete its investigation of an employee complaint within a year.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and it has become clear that the Department of Energy is not going to change its culture of retaliation against whistleblowers, so it’s up to Congress to change it,” Senator Wyden said. “This bill beefs up the penalties for contractors who retaliate, relieves taxpayers from picking up the tab for contractors’ legal costs, and gives whistleblowers more power to challenge violations of their rights.”