What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Freedom of Scientific Inquiry : H.R. 985 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act/
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H.R. 985 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act/
house Roll Call 150     Mar 14, 2007
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Progressive

This amendment to the Whistleblower Protection Act was proposed by Rep. William Sali (R-Idaho) and would remove language from the bill that gives whistleblower protections to government-funded scientists. Whistleblower protections aim to ensure that federal employees who report corruption or wrongdoing are not retaliated against or lose their own jobs.

Sali said the motivation for his amendment was his belief that it's "inappropriate to attempt to shoehorn the debate about public policy influencing science into this legislation, thus turning it into a personnel issue to be litigated in the courts."

The underlying bill makes disseminating "false or misleading technical information" an "abuse of authority," which triggers whistleblower protections for those who expose it. The problem, Sali said on the House floor, is that in science, "the question of what is false or misleading is often a difficult question on which reasonable people can disagree, and on which sometimes scientific authorities have a hard time making up their minds." Whistleblower protection, Sali said, means the threat of lawsuits for alleged abuses, and he asserted that turning science into a personnel issue to be litigated in the courts "is not good public policy."

During floor debate, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) responded that the Bush administration, by exerting unprecedented political interference on government-funded science, has put Congress in the position of having to legislate this issue.

"We have seen scientific findings manipulated or outright rejected when they don't bolster favored policies. And we have seen government agencies put out information about health that is entirely false, but politically advantageous," Braley said, adding: "In one EPA report on the environment, the White House made so many edits to downplay the discussion of global warming that scientists at the agency said the draft no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change."

Braley pointed out that 52 Nobel Laureates, 62 National Medal of Science winners, 194 members of the National Academies of Science and thousands of other American scientists have signed a statement speaking out against political interference in science, and in order to remedy the problems, "we have to know about them." This legislation does that, he asserted, without effecting legitimate political or policy decisions related to scientific issues. All it does is prevent retaliation against employees who report political interference with science, Braley said.

By a vote of 159 in favor and 271 opposed, the House voted against Sali's amendment. All 232 Democrats present, as well as 39 Republicans, voted against it. Thus, provisions protecting government-funded scientists from retaliation for speaking out against undue political influence or other wrongdoing remained in the House's version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

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