Sign the Petition

Dear Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Ron Wyden,

We understand you will be speaking at the upcoming National Whistleblower Day Celebration on July 30. Thank you for your many years-long advocacy for whistleblowers. The signers of this petition respectfully request you and, hopefully, other members of the Senate Whistleblower Caucus, pose the questions listed below to Cathy Harris, the Chairman of the US Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

There is much evidence that federal agency employees are reluctant to make whistleblower disclosures because of fear of futility and/or reprisal. As we read the law, Cathy Harris has the duty to “sound the alarm” to the President and Congress when a quorum of the Board of MSPB determines federal agency employees do not obtain adequate—timely and objective—resolution of their whistleblower disclosures and/or are not adequately protected from reprisal.1 2 3

Cathy Harris is aware of this whistleblower disclosure and has refused to resolve it, while not disputing its validity or significance to American health, safety, security and welfare. We ask you to request her to answer the questions below. MSPB is over-due for statutory re-authorization and her responses could inform that process.

Questions for Cathy Harris, Recently Confirmed Chairman of US Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) 4 5 6

  1. Does MSPB have a regulation that describes how it will perform its duty, per 5 U.S.C. §1204(a)(3), to “report to the President and to the Congress as to whether the public interest in a civil service free of prohibited personnel practices is being adequately protected”? If not, why not, particularly as it has regulations for its other statutory duties listed at §1204(a)?
  2. Has MSPB ever specifically and explicitly reported to the President and the Congress, per 5 U.S.C. §1204(a)(3), “… as to whether the public interest in a civil service free of prohibited personnel practices is being adequately protected?” If so, where and when?
  3. Do you believe federal agency employees are, in every agency or federal workplaces in general, adequately protected from unlawful reprisal?
  4. Do you agree that if federal agency employees are not—whether in one agency or more generally—adequately protected from reprisal, then “the public interest in a civil service free of prohibited personnel practices is NOT being adequately protected?” Why or why not?
  5. Have you previously declined to request the Attorney General to issue his opinion on how you, as your predecessors since the creation of MSPB in 1979, are interpreting and applying the statutory duty at 5 U.S.C. §1204(a)(3) to “… report to the President and the Congress as to whether the public interest in a civil service free of prohibited personnel practices is being adequately protected?” If so, why?
  6. Do you have an attorney-client relationship with MSPB, the agency you also lead? If so, does your professional duty as a licensed attorney to protect the interests of MSPB justify your efforts to prevent the Attorney General from issuing such an opinion as it could well find you, as your predecessors at MSPB since its creation, have failed to interpret and apply this statutory duty properly?


Lead Petitioners,

Tom Devine
Legal Director, Government Accountability Project (GAP)

Doug Pagitt
President, Greater Things Foundation

  1. A November 14, 2011 MSPB report, “Blowing The Whistle: Barriers to Federal Employees Making Disclosures,” that found fear of futility, more than fear of reprisal, dissuaded potential federal whistleblowers.  As a result, in 2017, Congress created the statutory duty, found at 5 U.S.C. §4302(b), for federal agency supervisors to assist their subordinates in obtaining a timely and objective resolution of their whistleblower disclosures. Given this law, it can be argued that Ms. Harris is engaged in reprisal in failing to resolve this whistleblower disclosure against her and her predecessors.  Regardless, her stonewalling of this whistleblower disclosure is contrary to her duties to protect the merit principles by encouraging whistleblowing.
  2. This statutory duty, arguably Ms. Harris’ most important for American health, safety, security and welfare, is found in the latter part of 5 U.S.C. §1204(a)(3). Unlike the other statutory duties listed at §1204(a), MSPB has issued no regulation for its implementation, which  consistent with its not being performed since MSPB’s creation in 1979.
  3. U.S. Office of Government Ethics regulation at 5 C.F.R. §2635.101(b)(11) requires federal agency employees to make whistleblower disclosures when they have reasonable belief in a violation of any law, rule or regulation Cathy Harris is aware of this whistleblower disclosure and has refused to resolve it, while not disputing its validity or significance to American health, safety, security and welfare.
  4. President Biden nominated Ms. Harris four times to become Chairman – in 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. He also nominated her twice to be a Member of MSPB. She was confirmed as a Member in May 2022, in a 49-47 party line vote. President Biden then named her as Vice-Chairman and Acting Chairman of MSPB in June 2022. She was confirmed as Chairman on March 6, 2024 in a 51-48 party line vote.
  5. By 5 U.S.C. §1205, any Committee or Subcommittee of Congress may request answers of these questions. Additionally, Ms. Harris, under oath in her confirmation hearing on September 22, 2021, pledged to respond to any Committee request to testify, see page 10 of S. Hrg. 117-265.
  6. In her October 20, 2009 Senate Confirmation hearing, Ms. Harris’ predecessor as MSPB Chairman, Susan Tsui Grundmann, under oath, pledged to make this report. Almost fifteen years later, it has yet to happen, see page 6 of S. Hrg. 111-452.

Sign the Petition*