March 31, 2023

Duckworth, Grassley, Wyden, Lankford, Markey Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Protect Whistleblowers at DOE & NRC


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK) and Ed Markey (D-MA) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to make sure federal law provides U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) civil servants with the same due process rights provided to corporate employees who experience retaliation for blowing the whistle on nuclear safety violations. The bipartisan Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Whistleblower Protection Act would ensure DOE and NRC employees have a fair opportunity to enforce whistleblower protection rights under Section 211 of the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA)—precisely as Congress intended more than 15 years ago when it passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and added DOE and NRC as covered employers under Section 211 of the ERA.

“Every individual should be protected when blowing the whistle on a nuclear safety violation, which is why Congress was right to act more than 15 years ago to ensure civil servants at the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission received the same whistleblower protections and due process rights as nuclear energy industry employees,” Duckworth said. “The legal loophole that continues to deny DOE and NRC employees full whistleblower protections when engaging in protected activity ultimately weakens oversight, accountability and public confidence in the industry, and I am grateful to once again be working with a strong bipartisan coalition that shares my commitment to swiftly fixing this problem.”

“Whistleblowers play a key role in bringing mismanagement and wrongdoing to light,” Grassley said. “This bill provides a necessary and long-overdue update to the Energy Policy Act to make it clear that whistleblowers at the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission can come forward and report nuclear safety violations without fear of retaliation. Waste, fraud and abuse in the government is never acceptable, and we should be doing all we can to empower these brave whistleblowers and ensure they are protected from retaliation.”

“Whether you are an industry or government employee, you deserve the strongest protections against retaliation when coming forward with nuclear safety violations,” Wyden said. “Yet, because of a legal loophole, DOE and NRC employees are denied full whistleblower protections. Our bipartisan bill makes it crystal clear that these civil servants have the same due process rights as industry employees when blowing the whistle, just as Congress originally intended.”

“For years I have been fighting to protect whistleblowers who speak truth to power from those who try to silence them,” Markey said. “This legislation closes a loophole to ensure that civil service whistleblowers have the legal protections they deserve if they raise their voices against nuclear safety violations. I will continue to fight for their right to speak out without fear of retaliation.”

Following enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration promulgated regulations and provided materials to be displayed in DOE and NRC offices, which included guidance on how DOE and NRC employees could file a complaint if retaliated against for engaging in protected activity under Section 211. However, DOL Law Judges and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit subsequently determined that such complaints from DOL or NRC personnel would be summarily dismissed, because Congress did not provide the clear and unequivocal waiver of sovereign immunity under Section 629 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that the Supreme Court of the United States requires to enable whistleblower protection claims to be enforced against the United States Government.

The bipartisan Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Whistleblower Protection Act simply clarifies current law to provide the clear and unequivocal waiver of sovereign immunity that will enable Section 211 ERA whistleblower protection rights to be enforced against all covered employers—just as Congress intended when it amended the law more than 15 years ago. Passing this bipartisan whistleblower protection bill swiftly will ensure all DOE and NRC employee complaints under Section 211 are adjudicated on the merits.

The bill is endorsed by the following members of the Make It Safe Coalition: Government Accountability Project, National Taxpayers Union, National Whistleblower Center, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Taxpayer Protection Alliance, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Acorn 8, Transparency International – U.S. Office, Whistleblowers of America.


A copy of the bill one-pager is available here.