A version of this letter was sent to U.S. Senators Warner, Collins, Kaine, and Grassley.
November 19, 2013
As members of the public health community, we write to urge you to support the Warner-Collins-Kaine-Grassley amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2014 (NDAA, S. 1197). The Warner-Collins-Kaine-Grassley amendment will strengthen whistleblower protections not only for military whistleblowers but also for those members of our dedicated Public Health Service, the 6,500 PHS officers who work at more than 20 federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Homeland Security. PHS officers are under the jurisdiction of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA).
It has been well-documented that the current whistleblower protections under the MWPA for military and public health officers are inadequate.1 The Government Accountability Office reports that from FY 2006-mid-2011, only 20 whistleblowers obtained relief out of 2227 reprisal complaints—less than one percent.2
We strongly support the reforms that both the House and Senate have advocated to strengthen those protections, and note that the Senate bill, S. 1197, contains some provisions that improve on the House bill.
However, S. 1197 needs additional strengthening, something the Warner-Collins-Kaine-Grassley amendment will help achieve. It will give military whistleblowers who have been retaliated against the right to a hearing, and extend the deadline for reporting agency reprisals from 90 days to one year. And it will ensure that whistleblower complaints about reprisal are investigated by officials who are independent of the whistleblower’s immediate supervisors.
Unfortunately, the Senate bill does not offer our service members a level playing field with the same legal burdens of proof afforded to all other whistleblowers to prove the government acted illegally by harassing them – a right that has long been the standard for every whistleblower law since 1989.
Nevertheless, this amendment is a good first step to strengthening the military whistleblower law, and one we hope to build on as this legislation advances to a House-Senate conference committee. Those who serve on the front lines, and our dedicated public servants working as PHS officers at more than 20 federal agencies deserve first-class whistleblower protections.
Organizations in support:
American Medical Student Association
Annie Appleseed Project
Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
National Consumers League
National Research Center for Women & Families
National Women’s Health Network
Our Bodies Ourselves
The TMJ Association
Supporting as individuals:
Rita F. Redberg, M.D., M.Sc., F.A.C.C.,
Editor JAMA Internal Medicine,
Professor of Medicine
Director, Women’s Cardiovascular Services
UCSF Division of Cardiology
Susan F. Wood, PhD, Director
Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health
The George Washington University
School of Public Health and Health Services