May 24, 2018

Duckworth Introduces Legislation to Protect Whistleblowers at Department of Energy & Nuclear Regulatory Commission


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced legislation today to protect whistleblowers who are employed by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Whistleblower Protection Act of 2018 would clarify a provision in the Energy Reorganization Act to ensure all DOE and NRC employees are guaranteed whistleblower protection rights. Currently, DOE and NRC whistleblowers are at risk of retaliation, even when they report critical public safety concerns, because of recent administrative law rulings that empower DOE and NRC to dismiss any whistleblower claim brought against them under the Energy Reorganization Act’s employee protection authorities.

“If employees at DOE or NRC become aware of improper activity that puts public health and safety at risk, they need to be able to come forward without fear of career-ending retaliation or discrimination,” said Senator Duckworth. “Congress should pass my commonsense bill to make sure that any DOE and NRC whistleblower who has the courage to report misconduct can do so with the confidence that their rights as whistleblowers will be protected.”

In 2005, Congress amended the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (ERA) to extend whistleblower protection rights to employees of the DOE and NRC. However, administrative law judges have ruled that because the 2005 amendment did not unequivocally express a waiver of sovereign immunity for ERA whistleblower actions, whenever an employee of NRC or DOE brings a whistleblower action under the ERA, either agency may simply have the whistleblower’s claim dismissed by asserting sovereign immunity. Duckworth has expressed concerns about how the ERA has been interpreted by administrative law judges and her legislation would amend the ERA to clarify that DOE and NRC employees may bring claims against their respective employers to enforce whistleblower protection rights under that law.

Duckworth is a member of both the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which have jurisdiction over DOE and NRC.