Pennsylvania Solons Expand Whistleblower Protection

Employees of Government Contractors and Legislature Now Shielded

Since the mid-1980s employees of state and local governments in Pennsylvania have been protected from intimidation and retaliation by the Pennsylvania Whistleblower law.  Government workers who reported waste, fraud and abuse were protected from losing their jobs as long as they acted in good faith.  But employees of the legislature and employees of government contractors were not granted similar protection until the Pennsylvania legislature passed HB-118 and HB-185 yesterday.

“Last night the state legislature gave Pennsylvanians an early Independence Day present with the passage of two important government reform bills – HB-118 and HB-185, which respectively extend Whistleblower protection to employees of government contractors and employees of the legislature.  Pennsylvanians now can feel more assured that the public purse is a little safer, and their state legislature is more accountable and ethical, due to the passage of these new safeguards” said Common Cause Pennsylvania Executive Director Barry Kauffman.  “We applaud the members of the General Assembly for passing these important reforms, and we look forward to the Governor signing them immediately.”

Passage of what became HB-118 was over six years in the making.  It emerged as HB-2108 in 2009 in the wake of billions of dollars of federal economic stimulus money that was flowing through Pennsylvania. History has taught us that when we have massive amounts of government money being spent, with a need for it to be distributed quickly, through new programs that need to be ramped up rapidly, you have created a potentially toxic mixture – a situation that without proper oversight would lead to abuse, fraud, waste, corruption and outright profiteering.  Common Cause Pennsylvania noted this problem during a public comment period at a meeting of the PA Stimulus Oversight Commission and pointed out that the people on the ground that could identify and report such problems, the employees of government contractors, were not protected by the state Whistleblower law.  Thereupon, Commission member Rep. Brian Ellis moved forward to introduce legislation to provide such protection.  Today’s passage is the result of his five year leadership endeavor.

Likewise, the on-going litany of scandals in the state legislature pointed out another loophole in the Whistleblower law – employees of the legislature were not protected by the law.  It had become obvious that many legislative employees knew, or should have known, about the illicit activities going on in the General Assembly, but feared for their jobs and did not report these activities to authorities. Rep. Jaret Gibbon realized the need to remedy this problem and led the charge to close this loophole.  Today employees of the legislature can rest assured they will not lose their jobs for reporting illegal activities.

Kauffman remarked “The years-long work of Representatives Ellis and Gibbons has produced new government integrity laws that will liberate public employees and employees of government contractors to do the right thing, to be guardians of the public interest and the public purse. If these new protections had been in effect eight years ago during the Bonusgate and Computergate scandals, the damage to state government might have been diminished, the cost to tax payers reduced, and fewer people would have needed to be prosecuted because the problem could have been nipped in the bud much earlier.  And who knows what we may have learned about abuses of the massive amounts of federal economic stimulus funds that flowed through the state, and the quality of goods and services that were provide, if employees of government contractors would have felt safe to report fraud, waste, shoddy performance, and profiteering.  No one should fear losing his or her job for reporting illegal activities, and hopefully these new laws will encourage more civic-minded people to take necessary action”