President Barack Obama signs the Whistleblower Protection and Enhancement Act in the Oval Office Tuesday. Standing with the president are Rep. Chris Van
President Barack Obama signs the Whistleblower Protection and Enhancement Act in the Oval Office Tuesday. Standing with the president are Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., center, and Rep. Todd Platts. Platts said the legislation is one of his greatest accomplishments. (Pete Souza/The White House )

A local legislator will leave part of his legacy in a new law that allows federal workers to more freely report fraud and other misconduct without fear of retribution.

U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-York County, was among a handful of legislators in the Oval Office Tuesday afternoon for the signing of a whistleblower protection bill the representative has pushed for years.

President Barack Obama signed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, a measure that provides protections for federal employees who disclose illegal actions, mismanagement, and dangers to the public health and safety.

Platts said the legislation is one of his greatest accomplishments in his 12 years in the House, and it's the result of nearly a decade spent advocating a change. He will retire at the end of the year.

The representative introduced his first whistleblower legislation in 2004, with a couple of versions passed by the House over the next few years.

The most recent legislation was named the Platts-Van Hollen Whistleblower Protection Act of 2011 in the House to honor the bipartisan men who had long pushed for it, Platts and Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen. The Senate version of the bill was introduced in April and approved earlier this month, becoming the first whistleblower legislation to find traction in the Senate and White House during Platts' tenure.

"It's the result of eight years of bipartisan collaboration," Platts said. "It's an example of how long it takes, the need for bipartisanship, and the fact that you don't get all of what you want. I got 80 percent of what I wanted after all was said and done."

Plugs holes: The bill restores "congressional intent" of earlier whistleblower protection legislation by plugging loopholes that resulted from Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decisions, according to a Platts press release. "For example, courts have ruled that an employee is not protected for disclosing waste, fraud, and abuse if he or she directs criticism to a supervisor, or if the information disclosed was done in the course of the employee's ordinary job duties."

The court has said a federal employee must prove the reported agency wasn't acting in good faith, "a standard of proof almost impossible for a whistleblower to meet," Platts said.

Only three of the more than 200 whistleblowers before the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals have prevailed since 1994, he said.

Supporting the bill were organizations such as the Government Accountability Project, or GAP, and the National Taxpayer's Union.

GAP has been pushing for reform for 13 years.

"This reform bookends Congressman Platts' legacy of good government," said Tom Devine, Legal Director of GAP, in a press release. "Over a decade ago he began his career in Congress by freeing up campaign finance reform. He is ending it as the longest House sponsor in a 13-year marathon campaign to restore credible free speech rights for federal government whistleblowers."

Devine said the legislation "means that federal workers who defend the taxpayers finally can defend themselves. Without those rights, bureaucratic cover-ups and repression would continue to be the norm at government agencies."

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.