Labor & Employment Law Daily COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act would improve accountability of pandemic relief funds
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Thursday, June 18, 2020

COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act would improve accountability of pandemic relief funds

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The bill would put in place strong whistleblower protections for employees or former employees of funds recipients under the CARES Act or other similar legislation meant to address COVID-19.

On June 15, Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and six Democratic cosponsors introduced legislation in the House that is intended ensure whistleblower protections for people who expose misuse of government funds intended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) is sponsoring a Senate version of the bill, which has 10 cosponsors.

“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 [get] the recognition they deserve for their grit and fortitude,” Speier said in a release.

Anticorruption impetus. The legislation is motivated by a desire to make sure that the multimillion-dollar COVID-19 relief effort has accountability measures in place to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse. “The American people must have confidence that the massive federal investment in combatting the spread of COVID-19 fulfills its objective of mitigating the harm to our nation’s economy and helping the communities hardest hit by the pandemic,” according to a bill summary. “We cannot allow these funds to fall prey to profiteers and graft. Corruption in our nation’s COVID-19 relief effort is nothing less than a threat to public health.”

COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act. According to its sponsors, the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act, H.R. 7227, would:

  • Institute strong whistleblower protections for employees or former employees of funds recipients under the CARES Act or other similar legislation meant to address COVID-19;
  • Protect 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;
  • Create 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;
  • Where administrative relief is not timely provided, give whistleblowers access to jury trials in federal court, a best practice standard for modern whistleblower protection laws; and
  • Protect whistleblower confidentiality and protect against gag orders.

CORE Act. These whistleblower protections are included in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics (CORE) Act, S. 3855, introduced on June 1. That legislation would provide broader protections that:

  • Prohibit conflicts of interest;
  • Empower and protect inspectors general;
  • Strengthen the Congressional Oversight Commission;
  • Strengthen CARES Act executive branch accountability and oversight entities;
  • Protect whistleblowers;
  • Restrict and disclose lobbying and political spending;
  • Improve transparency and disclosure for bailout funds; and
  • Strengthen enforcement.

The COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

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