Whistleblower Letter to House and Senate Conferees

July 16, 2008

Dear Conferees,

Last October, 42 citizen, consumer and good government organizations signed a letter urging the Senate to support whistleblower protection in S. 2045, the CPSC Reform Act of 2007. Despite intense industry opposition, the Senate respected this mandate. With bi-partisan agreement the Senate adopted a strong whistleblower provision for enforcement of the law’s stronger consumer protection standards.

There no longer are any credible objections to the Senate provision. To illustrate, last fall industry lobbyists insisted that protection was unnecessary, because there were no reported cases of retaliation. Reform proponents pointed out the obvious: that was largely unavoidable due to the absence of legal rights. Nonetheless, proponents presented a menu of cases from whistleblowers who filed suit even without rights. Among others, the examples included a quality control manager fired for challenging inferior materials in an infant stationery play center; a product designer fired for challenging light fixtures that flunked federal safety standards but were marketed without prior testing; a product engineer fired after challenging continued sales without corrective action of faulty home furnace ignition devices that already had caused a fire; and a wire company employee fired for reporting shipment of faulty wiring in smoke alarms. Similarly, industry lobbyists asserted a deluge of litigation would ensue, but the allegation had no credibility. It has been made for virtually every whistleblower shield enacted by Congress, and never has materialized to date in 36 preexisting whistleblower laws

After the attacks could not stand scrutiny, special interest opponents largely stopped making them, in public.  We understand, however, that the pace of lobbying has intensified behind closed doors. It would be most unfortunate if this tactic worked. For one reason, the voters do not support it. A Democracy Corps survey of likely voters after the last election found whistleblower rights their second highest priority, chosen by 79%, only second to the related goal picked by 81% of ending illegal government spending.

That is understandable. Voters recognize that whistleblowers are the public’s eyes and ears. As illustrated above, whistleblowers have confirmed repeated instances of companies refusing to disclose the full extent of adverse internal tests results to the government, or to institute recalls despite test results that confirmed a high likelihood of fatal injuries.

Last week an anonymous whistleblower contacted the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project to urge that the final CPSC legislation contain whistleblower protection. The employee’s experience is a microcosm of why that provision is, in the whistleblower’s words, “indispensable” for companies to take the new standards seriously for any products self-regulated through internal testing. Otherwise, the conflicts of interest are too severe and the certain costs too great to delay production at the stage when testing normally occurs.” That scenario is the rule, rather than the exception, for the 15,000 products covered by H.R. 4040/S 2045. GAP reports that the employee’s concerns are being distributed to conferee staff whose offices pledge to respect confidentiality even for a highly sanitized memorandum of concerns – the only conditions the employee would accept without rights.

The lesson to be learned is unavoidable. Even with greater resources, the CPSC cannot always enforce stronger safety standards unless employees have the legally-protected right to help enforce the law. In 2005 the House respected that principle by enacting “best practice” whistleblower rights in the Energy Policy Act. Last August, Congress proved it was serious about homeland security by passing best practice whistleblower rights for ground transportation employees. In January, Congress followed suit for defense contractors, despite the shrill objections from such powerful firms as Halliburton and Bechtel.

It would be unfortunate if Congress did not stand up to industry lobbyists on this bill who no longer can make their objections in public. America routinely depends on retail products that if defective could threaten our families many times every day. We urge you to protect those who are indispensable to enforce this law. It is unrealistic to expect that whistleblowers will defend the public if they can’t defend themselves. 

Gil Mileikowsky, M.D.

Alliance for Patient Safety

 

Mary Alice Baish, Acting Washington Affairs Representative

American Association of Law Libraries

 

F. Patricia Callahan, president and general counsel

American Association of Small Property Owners

 

Nancy Talanian, Director

Bill of Rights Defense Committee

 

Charlie Cray, Director

Center for Corporate Policy

 

Merrill Goozner

Director, Integrity in Science

Center for Science in the Public Interest

 

Linda Lazarus, Director

Center to Advance Human Potential

 

Evelyn M. Hurwich, President and Chair

Circumpolar Conservation Union

 

John Judge

Coalition on Political Assassinations

9/11 Research Project

 

Matthew Fogg, President

Congress Against Racism & Corruption in Law Enforcement (CARCLE)

 

Ellen Bloom, Director of Federal Policy

Ami Gadhia, Policy Counsel

Consumers Union

 

Sue Udry, Director

Defending Dissent Foundation

 

Ben Smilowitz, Director

Disaster Accountability Project

 

Dr. Jim Murtagh

Doctors for Open Government

 

Gregory Hile

EnviroJustice

 

John Richard

Essential Information

 

George Anderson

Ethics in Government Group (EGG)

 

Steven Aftergood, Project Director

Federation of American Scientists

 

Marilyn Fitterman, Vice President

Feminists For Free Expression

 

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director

Food and Water Watch

 

Conrad Martin, Executive Director

Fund for Constitutional Government

 

Gwen Marshall, co-Chairman

Georgians for Open Government

 

Tom Devine, Legal Director

Government Accountability Project

 

James C. Turner, Executive Director

HALT, Inc. — An Organization of Americans for Legal Reform

 

Tom Carpenter, Executive Director

Hanford Challenge

 

Helen Salisbury, M.D.

Health Integrity Project

 

Rich Carlson , Legal Counsel

Idaho Rural Council

 

Michael McCray, Esq., Co-Chair

International Association of Whistleblowers

 

Donald Soeken, President

Integrity International

 

Mory Atashkar, Vice President

Iranian American Democratic Association

 

Mark S. Zaid

James Madison Project

 

Nancy Cowles, Executive Director

Kids in Danger

 

Michael D. Ostrolenk, National Director

Liberty Coalition

 

James Landrith, Founder

The Multiracial Activist

 

Joan E. Bertin, Esq., Executive Director

National Coalition Against Censorship

 

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director

National Consumers League

 

Terisa E. Chaw, Executive Director

National Employment Lawyers Association

 

Paul Brown, Government Relations Manager

National Research Center for Women & Families

 

Steve Kohn, President

National Whistleblower Center

 

Amy Allina

National Women's Health Network

 

Ron Marshall, Chairman

The New Grady Coalition

 

Rick Engler, Director

New Jersey Work Environment Council

 

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Chair

No FEAR Coalition

 

Sean Moulton, Director, Federal Information Policy

OMB Watch

 

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director

OpenTheGovernment.org

 

Joe Carson, PE, Chair

OSC Watch Steering Committee

 

Judy Norsigian, Executive Director

Our Bodies Ourselves

 

Betsy Combier, President and Editor

Parentadvocates.org

 

Former Special Agent Darlene Fitzgerald

Patrick Henry Center

 

Ronald J Riley, President

Professional Inventor's Alliance

 

Danielle Brian, Executive Director

Project On Government Oversight

 

David Arkush, Director, Congress Watch

Public Citizen

 

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

 

John W. Whitehead, president

The Rutherford Institute

 

Dr. Roland Chalifoux

The Semmelweis Society International (SSI)

 

Clint Brewer, President

Society of Professional Journalists

 

Kevin Kuritzky

The Student Health Integrity Project (SHIP)

 

Daphne Wysham, Co-Director

Sustainable Energy and Economy Network (SEEN)

 

Jeb White, Executive Director

Taxpayers Against Fraud

 

Ken Paff, National Organizer

Teamsters for a Democratic Union

 

Paul Taylor

Truckers Justice Center

 

Francesca Grifo, Ph.D., Director

Scientific Integrity Program

Union of Concerned Scientists

 

Michael J. Wilson, International Vice President and Director,

Legislative and Political Action Department

United Food & Commercial Workers International Union

 

Dane von Breichenruchardt, President

U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation

 

Mabel Dobbs, Chair

Livestock Committee

Western Organization of Resource Councils

 

Janet Chandler, Co-Founder

Whistleblower Mentoring Project

 

Linda Lewis, Director

Whistleblowers USA

 

Kim Witczak

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