Provisions in the $633 billion defense bill passed by the Senate are designed to aid workers who are fired or harassed at the government's direction after exposing fraud, waste and abuse. The bill will allow them to go to inspectors general—federal internal watchdogs—or the courts to try to stop harassment or get their jobs back.
Defense Department contractors, subcontractors and grant recipients will receive permanent protection.
In a four-year experiment, the protection also will apply to all other government contract employees and grant recipients while congressional investigators study how the system is working.
The exception is contractors working for intelligence agencies, who will not be covered.
The Government Accountability Project, which represents whistle-blowers, estimated the legislation would protect 12 million people. The passage comes a month after Obama signed a law that afforded greater protection to 2 million federal employees who become whistle-blowers.
Both measures protect disclosures of information that whistle-blowers reasonably believe are evidence of illegality, gross waste, gross mismanagement, abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
Aggrieved whistle-blowers under the new legislation can file a "retaliation" complaint with agency inspectors general, who can investigate and make recommendations to heads of agencies.
If an agency declines to provide requested relief within 210 days, the whistle-blower may go to U.S. district court and have the case decided by a jury. Whistle-blowers would have three years to take action.