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Federal Employees News Digest : Aug 19, 2013
August 19, 2013 Vol. 63, No. 5 3 Visit us on the Internet at www.FederalDaily.com have remained hostile to these rights since their inception. So alternatives to formal access to courts that you've long worked for---such as over- sight based within the agencies---often is simply not firing on all cylinders to protect employees who need it? Devine: Honor systems have always been a bad bet---and the ones in the civil service are no exception. Is the WPEA an important step in the right direction, in your opinion? Devine: There's no question that last fall's legislation is a landmark---and one that cre- ates a new high-water mark for the rights of federal workers. But federal employees are still second class compared to what's available to those in the private sector. How do federal whistleblower protec- tions now stack up against those found in laws to protect private-sector workers? Devine: The ratio for successful [whistle- blower] cases under better laws for the private sector ranges from 25 to 33 percent. The rates for federal employees don't approach that yet. But they should improve in the short term, at least, in the wake of the new law. Longer haul, there needs to be normal access to courts, independent of political pressures. Has the OSC improved in recent years? Devine: The Office of Special Counsel is buried in work---but they are now fighting for the rights of whistleblowers. They used to ignore all these cases---they were like a legal- ized [Watergate-era] "plumbers" unit. OSC is making a good-faith effort under the current administration. But that commitment could become a soap bubble after the next election. Why do you think the current adminis- tration has disappointed many on whistle- blower rights by really not addressing the toughest problems that you've mentioned still exist? Is it because of heightened nation- al security concerns? Devine: The president has been very supportive of intelligence-community and other national security whistleblowers who stay within institutional channels. In fact, the WPA as a bill in 2010 to 2012 included a provision sponsored by the administration to create free speech rights for intelligence employees and others challenging security clearance actions---if they stayed inside of institutional channels. Those were removed at the insistence of the House Intelligence Committee. That committee actually killed the bill in 2010 and threatened to do so in 2012 because intelligence-community whistleblower rights were included in the bill. President Obama issued a Presidential Directive, PPD-19, last October, before Congress passed the bill. This provides, by executive action, the same free speech rights regardless of the bill, and for the first time in history employees at CIA and NSA have the right to disclose to their inspec- tors general or to [the proper authorities] in Congress. PPD-19 isn't as good as if the rights were included in the bill, because as a PPD they don't have the same due process rights. We don't know if they're reliable yet, but they are a landmark in principle. It's when national security workers go outside of intelligence agency walls or disclose clas- sified information to the public that the administration turns on them---regarding them, it seems, as spies instead of patriots. Can you tell our readers exactly what mechanisms available to national security employees are permitted, by PPD-19, to blow the whistle? Devine: They can blow the whistle to their supervisor---of course that's where most dis- sent occurs---and through other institutional channels at their agency, to their office of inspector general, or to the congressional intelligence committees. What are the weaknesses to the PPD- provided protections? Devine: The Achilles heel of the PPD, we're predicting, will be the problem of independent due process to enforce those rights. But, it should be said, the continued from page 1 Don’t miss our discussion of weekly news topics. Discuss these stories and more with your fellow federal workers at www.FederalSoup.com. continued on page 4 Benefits enrollment deadline nears for same-sex couples The deadline is fast approaching for federal employees in legal same-sex marriages to enroll spouses and their children in federal benefits programs. The deadline is Aug. 26, 2013---60 days from the June 26, 2013, Supreme Court ruling that found unconstitutional the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that forbade the federal gov- ernment from recognizing legal same-sex marriages. For the purpose of extending benefits, the federal government now treats legal same-sex marriages in the same manner as opposite-sex marriages, regardless of an employee's or annuitant's state of residency. OPM is now able to extend benefits to legally married same-sex spouses of federal employ- ees and annuitants, and is treating all legal same-sex marriages that predate the decision as new marriages To obtain benefits coverage, employees must follow the same procedures they currently follow when enrolling an opposite-sex spouse or child(ren) of an opposite-sex mar- riage. OPM issued a July 17 Benefits Administration Letter that provides eligibility and enroll- ment guidance for federal employees and annuitants who wish to enroll same-sex spouses and children in federal health, life, vision and dental insurance programs. The letter also provides information on flexible spending accounts. If the Aug. 26 deadline is missed, affected employees also would be able to enroll their same-sex spouses in health, dental and vision benefits during the next open season beginning in November. The letter is available at www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/benefits-admin- istration-letters/2013/13-203.pdf.
Aug 12, 2013
Aug 26, 2013