Senate Committee Approves Landmark Product Safety Whistleblower Protections

The Government Accountability Project, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization for whistleblower protection, applauded the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation yesterday for advancing the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act of 2007. The legislation includes landmark "best practices" whistleblower protections for employees who disclose violations of product safety standards by retailers, manufacturers, or distributors of products in commerce. The legislation, S. 2045, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), was approved unanimously Oct. 30. An amendment by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), which significantly strengthened the whistleblower rights section, also gained Committee approval.

GAP also notes that objections expressed by CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord to the whistleblower provision are no longer relevant after a Committee substitute amendment addressed the specific concern. In a letter to the Committee, Nord objected to the whistleblower provision because it would require CPSC to take on "the dramatic and unprecedented mission of hearing and acting upon employee whistle-blower complaints." The Committee responded by approving a change that requires whistleblowers to file complaints with the Department of Labor, which has a well-established adjudicative system for handling reprisal complaints.

"The Committee gave bipartisan approval to extend Congress' growing mandate for corporate whistleblower rights beyond transportation disasters or homeland and national security," stated GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, referencing a similar measure that passed this Congress granting whistleblower protections for ground transportation employees. "Whistleblowers are the first line of defense against defective products that needlessly threaten America's families every day in their routine home activities."

Additionally, the Committee endorsed Sen. McCaskill's amendment, which allows whistleblowers to remove their case to federal district court for a jury trial if a timely administrative ruling is not received. The committee responded favorably to a letter sent by GAP and 42 other whistleblower-support, good-government, and consumer-protection groups. That letter can be found on GAP's Web site at http://www.whistleblower.org/doc/2007/CPSC_committee_letter_better.pdf.

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