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S. 585 (115th): Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017

S. 585 provides additional protections to Federal employees who are retaliated against for disclosing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal government. Specifically, the legislation increases protections for federal employees, increases awareness of federal whistleblower protections, and increases accountability and requires discipline for supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers.

The bill provides enhanced protections and expedites investigations of instances in which probationary federal employees are fired for whistleblowing; enacts reforms to ensure that managers who retaliate against whistleblowers are held accountable; provides the Office of Special Counsel with adequate access to information from federal agencies to allow for complete investigations and better protect whistleblowers; ensures that all federal employees are informed of their rights as whistleblowers and provides training to managers on protections; and establishes measures to hold VA employees that improperly access the medical records of their fellow VA employees accountable.

Further, the bill requires the Government Accountability Office to provide two reports to discuss retaliation against employees on probationary status and assess management and staffing levels of police officers at VA medical centers.

Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick was a 38-year old clinical psychologist at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. In early 2009 Dr. Kirkpatrick complained that a number of his patients were too drugged to treat properly. In April 2009, Kirkpatrick was called to a disciplinary meeting and given a written reprimand.

In July 2009, three months after Tomah VA officials disciplined him for criticizing medication practices, Kirkpatrick had reported that one of his veteran patients had threatened to harm him and his dog. A treatment team decided the patient should be discharged, but he never was. Kirkpatrick was summoned to another disciplinary meeting. This time, he was fired. Soon after, Dr. Kirkpatrick committed suicide.

A VA investigation -- triggered earlier this year by the revelation that a veteran died at Tomah last August from "mixed drug toxicity" -- found Kirkpatrick's concerns had been warranted. Tomah veterans were 2½ times more likely to get high doses of opiates than the national average. Further investigations found retaliation against whistleblowers has become a major problem at VA facilities across the country. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating 110 retaliation claims from whistleblowers in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

Last updated Oct 10, 2017. Source: Republican Policy Committee

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on May 25, 2017.


(This measure has not been amended since it was reported to the Senate on May 4, 2017 . The summary of that version is repeated here.)

Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017

TITLE I--EMPLOYEES GENERALLY

(Sec. 102) This bill directs federal agencies (excluding any entity that is an element of the intelligence community) to give priority to an employee transfer request if the Merit Systems Protections Board (MSPB) grants a stay of a personnel action at the request of: (1) the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) if the OSC determines the personnel action was taken, or is to be taken, as a result of a prohibited personnel practice; or (2) the employee if the individual is in probationary status and seeks corrective action.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) shall report to Congress on retaliation against employees in probationary status.

(Sec. 103) The bill: (1) prohibits any employee who has the authority to take a personnel action to access the medical records of another employee or applicant for employment, (2) authorizes disciplinary action against supervisors for retaliation against whistleblowers.

(Sec. 105) Agencies must: (1) refer information about employee suicides to the OSC, (2) train supervisors on responding to complaints alleging whistleblower protections violations, (3) provide information regarding whistleblower protections to new employees during probationary periods, (4) inform employees of the role of the OSC and the MSPB with regard to whistleblower protection, and (5) make information about such protections available on agency websites.

TITLE II--DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS EMPLOYEES

(Sec. 201) The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must: (1) submit a plan to prevent unauthorized access to the medical records of VA employees; (2) conduct an outreach program to inform its employees of available mental health services, including telemedicine options; and (3) ensure protocols are in effect to address threats against VA employees providing health care.

(Sec. 204) The GAO shall assess the reporting, staffing, accountability, and chain of command structure of the VA police officers at VA medical centers.