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WA Wants Honest Opinions from State Employees

March 24, 2008

Olympia, WA – There's new legislation intended to expand protection for "whistle blowers" in Washington state government by expanding the definition of the term. People typically think of whistle-blowing as the exposing of fraud or corruption. However, the bill on Gov. Christine Gregoire's desk this week adds protection for people providing other kinds of information, from scientific and technical research to financial matters.

Washington Department of Ecology employees say the law is necessary because increasingly, workers in environmental fields are on controversial turf, and they should be able to give accurate reports and honest opinions without fear of reprisal. They want protection for expressing their scientific opinions, especially when they differ from the views of the agency or their supervisors. Pete Kmet, an environmental engineer with the department, says it doesn't happen often--but often enough to warrant a more comprehensive law.

"These are very complex problems. There are going to be a variety of opinions, technical and scientific, about what's appropriate, how to fix 'em. It's important for the public and policymakers to have that full range of opinions, so they can make informed decisions."

Kmet says the legislation was prompted by a case in which a state worker resigned after feeling pressured to change a report about water pollution in the Spokane River. He adds that state employees have watched federal agencies debate such hot topics as global warming, and they want to be sure that in the state of Washington, no one's point of view goes unheard.

"If a technical staff prepares a report, and let's say it's at odds with management's position on that issue, that report cannot be altered unless there are valid scientific reasons for that."

The Washington Federation of State Employees says theirs is the first state to add protection for scientific and technical opinions to a whistle-blower law.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA