The House passed a bill on Thursday strengthening protections for whistleblowers in the federal government.
The legislation, titled the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act, passed in a 221-203 vote. Two Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and Nancy Mace (S.C.) — joined all voting Democrats in supporting the measure.
The bill seeks to prevent retaliation against federal employees who expose wrongdoings, including retaliatory investigations. Such wrongdoings can include breaches of the law, mismanagement, abuse of authority or actions that pose a danger to public health.
If the Office of Special Counsel determines that an inspector general referral was retaliatory, however, the measure would require that the special counsel make note of the discovery to the inspector general, who would use that information when deciding whether or not to open or continue an investigation.
Additionally, the bill calls for limiting the disclosure of the identity of whistleblowers, and clarifies that federal government employees — including the president, vice president and congressional lawmakers — are not allowed to hinder or strike back against a whistleblower who provides information to Congress.
“Today’s bipartisan passage of the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act brings us one step closer to ensuring that any federal employee who steps forward to report wrongdoing is protected from retaliation,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of the bill and the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement after the bill passed on Thursday.
“Whistleblowers are the first line of defense to hold those in power accountable. Congress relies on whistleblowers to exercise our constitutional oversight responsibilities, safeguard taxpayer dollars, improve federal programs, and even save lives,” she added.
House passage of the bill came roughly four months after the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General found that Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman — the brother of Retired Army Col. Alexander Vindman, who was a key witness in former President Trump’s first impeachment — was likely the target of retaliation from Trump officials.
“We found, based on a preponderance of the evidence, that the Complainant was the subject of unfavorable personnel actions from administration officials,” the office of the inspector general wrote in a statement.
The Vindman brothers raised alarm about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019, which led to Trump’s first impeachment. The Pentagon’s report said Alexander Vindman told his concerns to his brother, and the pair then reported the worries to higher authorities.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, argued on the House floor Wednesday that the whistleblower legislation “is a step too far.”
“The whistleblower protection improvement act is a step too far and would help further entrench federal government employees in their job,” he said.
“Whistleblowers in the federal government are covered by some of the most comprehensive protections for employees in the country. Whistleblowers serve a valuable role in our government — especially under an administration like the Biden administration, which is subject to almost no oversight by Congress. But giving this bill a great title, Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act, does not and should not provide cover for the actual requirements and consequences of this bill,” he added.
Comer also referenced Trump’s first impeachment in his argument against the bill.
“In large part this bill is just an excuse to further idolize the people who pushed the sham impeachment against former President Trump,” he said.
— Updated at 7:35 p.m.