On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the well-publicized $787 billion stimulus package designed to promote economic recovery and minimize unemployment (H.R. 1). The Senate and the House passed a joint version of the bill on February 13, 2009.
The final version of the Act omitted the controversial E-Verify requirements included in prior House versions of the bill. The provisions would have prohibited certain federal contractors from receiving any stimulus funding unless they used the E-Verify system, an internet-based system that allows employers to verify employees’ work eligibility and is jointly administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Social Security Administration. Opponents of E-Verify had criticized its error rate.
The final version of the Act provides whistleblower protections to employees of any private, state, or local government entity that receives a contract, grant, or other payment from the stimulus’s funds. Under the whistleblower provisions, an employer cannot discharge, demote, or take any adverse employment action against an employee who reports evidence of: (1) gross mismanagement of a contract or grant, (2) a gross waste of covered funds, (3) a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety related to the implementation of stimulus funds, (4) an abuse of authority related to the implementation of stimulus funds, or (5) a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a contract awarded as part of the stimulus.
A person alleging a violation of these provisions shall submit a complaint to the inspector general of the agency administering the contract. If the inspector general denies the employee relief or fails to issue a decision within 210 days of the filing of the complaint, the employee has the right to bring a complaint for a jury trial in federal court. Preexisting mandatory arbitration clauses, except for those negotiated in the context of a collective bargaining agreement, are not binding on claims arising out of the stimulus’s whistleblower provisions.