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Newly Passed Whistleblower Act Strengthens Protections for Federal Scientists

Shortly after returning for the lame duck session, the Senate on 13 November unanimously passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, which the House passed some months ago. Now awaiting the president’s signature, the legislation “offers an array of new protections for [federal] employees who reliably report waste, fraud and abuse, while distinguishing such whistleblowing from disagreements over legitimate policy decisions,” reports Charles Clark at Government Executive.

Among the government workers whom the new act protects from “retaliation in the form of firing, demotion, blackballing, etc.,” are the many scientists employed in a wide range of federal agencies and laboratories, notes Jane Robbins at Inside Higher Ed. It explicitly protects them from “retaliation for reporting a reasonable belief of ‘censorship related to research, analysis or technical information’ ” or ” ‘any effort to distort, misrepresent or suppress’ ” findings if such “censorship is or could be unlawful; wasteful; represents gross mismanagement or abuse of authority; or ‘a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety,’ ” she continues.

Federal scientists have a particular need for the Act’s protections because they can comprehend, evaluate, and report on highly technical issues and information that are “opaque to others,” she states. Indeed, she adds, disputes at scientific agencies were among the factors that led to a strong bipartisan impetus for the law’s passage.