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Whistleblowers Petitioning Congress--Senators and Representatives and Committee Staffs

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).

Individual Legislators

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 Committees

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.

The WPA's History


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