Swalwell Introduces Bill to Strengthen Whistleblower Protection Laws

June 11, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) today introduced legislation to better protect whistleblowers from having their anonymity and safety compromised.

“Whistleblowers are critical to rooting out waste, fraud, abuse, and illegal conduct, especially as this administration strives to block congressional oversight at every turn,” said Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees. “Threatening and trying to reveal whistleblowers’ identities is wrong and undercuts long-established policy, endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans for decades, to encourage people to come forward with allegations of wrongdoing. It’s time to stand up against these attacks and strengthen the right of whistleblower anonymity.”

Swalwell began drafting the Enhancing Protections for Whistleblower Anonymity Act last year after President Trump and others attacked the courageous whistleblower who raised concerns with the Director of National Intelligence’s Office of Inspector General about the president’s actions with respect to Ukraine – actions for which the president later was impeached. Calling this person a “disgrace,” someone who was perpetrating a “hoax,” and suggesting this was a “spy” who could face the death penalty, the president demanded to “meet [his] accuser.” This led to wild speculation and efforts by Members of Congress and people across the country to discover and publish this person’s identity; as a result, the whistleblower’s attorney expressed fear for his client’s safety.

The Judiciary Committee soon will hold a hearing to take testimony from whistleblowers regarding President Trump’s and Attorney General William Barr’s politicization of the Department of Justice.

Current law prevents only some federal officials from revealing a whistleblower’s identity, but there is no penalty for violations. The Enhancing Protections for Whistleblower Anonymity Act would impose criminal penalties on any federal official who knowingly communicates the identity of a whistleblower, or information which would reveal such a person’s identity, except to other government officials when permitted by existing law. The bill also would let whistleblowers whose identities are illegally disclosed sue for injunctive relief or monetary damages.

“It long has been illegal to retaliate against federal witnesses, and exposing anonymous whistleblowers is the gateway for all reprisals. But federal laws protecting confidentiality rights are toothless, without any way for whistleblower to defend themselves or enforce them. Until there are remedies and accountability, there will be no deterrence against gateway harassment,” said Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project. “Outing whistleblowers exposes them to retaliation, ranging up to death threats last year, and has a chilling effect on the flow of evidence necessary for the rule of law. Rep. Swalwell’s bill adds the teeth that whistleblower confidentiality laws have always needed for credible rights.” 

“POGO applauds Congressman Swalwell's leadership in working to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers,” said Rebecca Jones, Policy Counsel for the Project On Government Oversight. “It is imperative that individuals be able to make protected disclosures about government waste, fraud, and abuse with the confidence that their identities will not be exposed in the process. Yet too often whistleblowers are the target of retaliatory attacks aimed to distract from their credible disclosures by bringing the whistleblower into the public eye. A breach in confidentiality violates a whistleblower's trust, can end their ability to work in their chosen career field, and may threaten the physical health and safety of the whistleblower and their family. We thank Congressman Swalwell for this important initiative and urge swift, bipartisan support.”

In addition to the Government Accountability Project and the Project On Government Oversight, the Enhancing Protections for Whistleblower Anonymity Act is supported by National Security Counselors, the National Taxpayers Union, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Whistleblowers for America.

PDF iconClick here to read the full text of the bill.