(WASHINGTON)—After intense efforts by the American Federation of Government Employees to expand the Transportation Security Administration’s limited whistleblower appeal rights, TSA has agreed that instead of receiving recommended findings of reprisal that TSA can ignore, Transportation Security Officers will now receive decisions that are enforceable through the US Merit Systems Protection Board.
TSA and the MSPB signed an agreement to provide “enhanced whistleblower protection for TSOs,” under which TSOs will—for the first time—be allowed to appeal cases to the MSPB. Previously, TSOs only could appeal to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which then would make a recommendation to TSA. However, TSA was not bound by that recommendation.
“The ability of TSO whistleblowers to be protected is something AFGE has been vigorously fighting for,” said AFGE General Counsel Mark Roth. “This agreement is a huge success not only for the employees and the union, but also for the American public, which has a right to have safety concerns exposed and resolved quickly.”
Interestingly, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley testified before the Senate on March 5, 2007 in response to the testimony by AFGE’s John Gage calling for the strengthening of whistleblower rights, and claimed that “TSOs have whistleblower protections comparable to those of other DHS employees through a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the United States Office of Special Counsel signed in May 2002. The assertion that TSOs do not have whistleblower rights is unfounded.”
“It’s clear that TSA’s previous assertions regarding the adequate coverage for whistleblower protection were flawed,” AFGE National President John Gage said. “AFGE is pleased that TSA has seen the error of its ways, but this agreement falls short of affording TSOs full whistleblower protections.
“The TSA/MSPB agreement does not allow TSOs to appeal a negative decision to the federal courts, which current whistleblower protection law allows other federal workers to do. The agreement also allows MSPB and TSA to negotiate on the procedures governing the processing of TSO whistleblower complaints. It is imperative that MSPB issue their own regulations and not negotiate with the agency they are overseeing.”
AFGE also stressed the importance that the negotiated conference report of the House and Senate whistleblower reform bills retains the provision in H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Enhancement Act of 2007, granting TSOs statutory whistleblower protections and the same protections against the on-the-job discrimination as other workers in federal government.