||This page discusses Congress' structure,
with links to identify relevant legislators
and committees, as well as to pending legislation
and the legislative history of the Whistleblower's
Protection Act (the WPA remains the primary
statute protecting federal employee whistleblowers).
Petitioning Congress includes very different
aspects. Federal employees can ask legislators
to help them individually. Citizens can also
ask legislators to help whistleblowers generally.
Legislators have clout and experience in
dealing with the federal bureaucracy in small
cases, as well as a constitutional, big-picture
oversight function. Politics does makes strange
bedfellows, although most whistleblower-protective
legislation that ultimately passes does so
unanimously (or nearly so).
|Most citizens have three federal
legislative representatives: one Congressman and two
Senators. Because legislators each participate
in several committees, they develop areas
of expertise, as discussed below and in the
links to the left.
Obviously, every legislator is extremely
busy, even with staff for assistance. Congressional
offices honor citizens' requests, especially
from in-district voters. Chances of legislative
involvement also increase with media attention
or where the particular legislator's district
(or sometimes a nearby one) is affected.
Legislators juggle many constituencies, including
major employers and campaign contributors
in their districts. Most generally try to
maintain good relations with the Executive
Branch. Although not every busy staffer will
be interested in potential whistleblower
disclosures, referral suggestions are possible.
However, complex matters beyond the experience
of a young or unspecialized staffer can simply
get lost, or routinely referred to the agency
itself for investigation or other response.
|Congressional oversight has gotten a bad
rap in recent years among publicity-shy civil
servants. Who wants to be the next Anita
Hill or Linda Tripp? Most federal employees
aren't that political. When most government
decisions are non- or bi-partisan, why risk
alienating the other political party? Plus,
relatively little fraud, corruption or mismanagement
involves a sex scandal or other media magnet.
The Senate Government Affairs Committee and
the House Government Reform and Oversight
Committee concern themselves with general
government operations, as well as civil service
matters. Other committees have jurisdiction
over specific agencies (for example, the
House and Senate Agriculture Committees oversee
the Department of Agriculture). Traditionally,
the heavily lobbied appropriations committees
have the least time for whistleblowers.
Some long-term committee staffers are non-partisan;
others are aligned with a particular political
party (majority or minority). Trouble is,
Congress in 1994 drastically cut its budget
for committee staff--either because legislators
thought the WPA Amendments enough, or needed
to finance the Clinton/Lewinsky sideshow.
While staff levels have recovered somewhat,
oversight generally has declined. As with
law enforcement personnel, staffers will generally honor
requests for anonymity. However, this remains
an imperfect whistleblowing venue--because
referrals back to the agency remain common,
and because staffers may refuse to get involved
once litigation begins.