Extending Whistleblower Protections

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Opinion Our Town, Opinion West Side Spirit, Our Town, West Side Spirit.


To employees of companies doing business with New York City

By Dan Garodnick

New Yorkers periodically hear about private contractors who are caught ripping off the city, with the CityTime scandal only the highest-profile example in recent years. Clearly, we need better tools to stop fraud and corruption to better protect city taxpayers.

Safeguarding taxpayer money from misuse is one of the reasons the city has whistleblower protections for its public employees. These protections are meant to empower workers to report suspected or known corruption without fear of retaliatory action by their employers.

However, employees of businesses that contract with the city are not afforded any such protections under the law, even though New York City’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget includes more than 17,000 contracts totaling about $10 billion (more than one-seventh of the city’s entire $67 billion budget).

Last week, I introduced legislation that would prohibit companies with city contracts in excess of $50,000 from punishing employees for reporting suspected or known corruption, criminal activity, gross mismanagement, conflicts of interest or abuse of authority.

The CityTime payroll project scandal speaks to why this legislation is needed. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) defrauded New York City taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars over several years, tens of millions of which will never be recouped. Although SAIC’s settlement with the city included adopting new whistleblower protections (in addition to $500 million in penalties), prudence dictates that those protections are put in place—along with outreach to make employees aware of those protections—before work commences on any new contract.

Congress extended these kinds of protections to employees of federal contractors and, by extension, to federal taxpayers three years ago. City taxpayers deserve the same protection.

Extending whistleblower protections also complements a bill that the New York City Council passed in March 2012, authored by Council Member Letitia James, which requires capital project cost overruns to be reported to the Council on a quarterly basis, along with details of additional project costs. Responsibility for 17,000 contracts means that we need to have the best methods to manage taxpayer dollars and limit cost overruns.

I urge the Bloomberg administration to support the extension of whistleblower protections at the Council’s Governmental Operations Committee hearing on April 16. It’s time to empower employees of companies doing business with New York City with the same whistleblower protections afforded to public employees. They are in the best position to report corruption and should be encouraged to help safeguard our taxpayer dollars without fear of retaliation.

 

Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick represents New York City’s 4th District and is running for city comptroller.

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