Whistle-Blower Boon

BIPARTISANSHIP took a battering during the Tower fight, but it's hale and hearty in other areas. An instance has been the agreement worked out between Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin on proposed legislation to further protect whistle blowers - federal employees who publicly reveal waste or mismanagement in their agencies. Often these workers have been fired or demoted in retaliation.

A 1978 law was aimed at protecting whistle blowers. It empowered the Merit Systems Protection Board to grant relief to employees who proved that whistle blowing was a ``substantial'' factor behind adverse actions by their bosses. An Office of Special Counsel was created to defend whistle blowers in board proceedings. According to critics, however, the standard of proof for employees was too high, and the Office of Special Counsel commonly sided with management.

A new bill sailed through Congress late last year. On the advice of Mr. Thornburgh, however, President Reagan let it die. The administration found constitutional defects and complained that the bill would shield malcontents and do-nothings from appropriate discipline.

This year - reportedly at the urging of President Bush - Thornburgh has reached an accord with congressional sponsors.

The bill grants relief to a federal worker who can show that whistle blowing was a ``contributing factor'' to his punishment. Employees may bring cases directly to the board, without going through the Office of Special Counsel. Whistle blowers are accorded greater confidentiality and wider latitude in recovering attorney fees.

The bill is expected swiftly to become law.

At a time when eliminating waste in government - notably in the Pentagon - is vital, well-motivated whistle blowers deserve fair treatment. Congress and the administration acted in the public interest in reaching accommodation on this bill.

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