Legislative package will strengthen City’s ability to prevent and uncover fraud by extending whistleblower protections to employees of City contractors and subcontractors.

Council will also vote on resolutions to reauthorize an adequately funded Farm Bill and another calling on the State to reform the Rent Guidelines Board.

New York, NY- Today, the City Council will vote to extend the protection afforded by the City’s Whistleblower Law to employees of City contractors and subcontractors, and to encourage those with information about fraud against the City to report it. Presently, the City’s Whistleblower Law only provides protection to City employees.

The Council will also vote on a resolution calling on Congress to reauthorize a Farm Bill that creates a strong and healthy food system by addressing hunger, improving access to healthy food, fueling economic growth and protecting the environment. Additionally, the Council will consider a resolution calling on the State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) reform legislation.

Whistleblower Legislation

A significant portion of the City’s budget is spent on private contractors – there are currently more than 17,000 contracts in the budget. These contracts can often be susceptible to abuse and fraud. However, those who are in the best position to recognize wrongful practices that could cost the City – and its taxpayers – money are vulnerable to retaliation by their employer if they come forward with information. As it stands, the City’s Whistleblower Law only protects City employees from this kind of punishment, not employees of City contractors or subcontractors.

Today’s legislation will forbid City contractors and subcontractors from retaliating against employees who report contract fraud to City authorities. It will also ensure that their employees know how they can report such information to the appropriate authorities.

The first bill applies to employees of City contractors and subcontractors with contracts valued over $100,000. Under the law, these employers will be barred from retaliating against an employee who reports corruption, criminal activity, conflicts of interest, gross mismanagement, or abuse of authority relating to work on a city contract.

A second bill will require these City contractors and subcontractors to post notices at job sites instructing employees on how to report information to the Department of Investigation (DOI) and informing them that they are legally protected to do so.

Finally, the Council will also vote to renew the New York City False Claims Act. The Act encourages whistleblowers to come forward with information by offering them a portion of the proceeds if the City recovers money based on the information provided. Since its enactment, the law has proven to be a useful tool for uncovering fraud against the City. It is set to expire on June 1.

“Whistleblowers are courageous individuals who are often the most important source for uncovering fraud and corruption,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Yet, who knows how many would-be whistleblowers stay silent out of fear of retaliation from their employer? Who knows how many would-be whistleblowers have made complaints to their boss, but after being ignored or maligned say ‘it’s just not worth it’? We need to create a safety net for these individuals to come forward, and when they do, let them know to alert the Department of Investigation or other city officials so that their complaints are not quietly swept under the rug.”

“We need to keep a closer eye on how our money is being spent, empowering people in the best position to spot problems early,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “We are relying heavily on outside contractors today, so let’s put strong checks in place to protect against fraud and waste of taxpayer money.”

“As the recent CityTime and 911 system scandals have shown, fraud is alive and well in the city,” said Government Operations Chair Gale Brewer. “These three bills signal a significant expansion of protections for city whistleblowers and taxpayers. My bill extending the NYC False Claims Act and Council Member Garodnick’s bills will strengthen protections for whistleblowers, and help taxpayers by making it easier to root out those who would attempt to defraud the City of New York.”

Farm Bill Resolution

This resolution is particularly focused on the need for the federal government to increase funding for food stamps and emergency food assistance as part of the Farm Bill currently in Congress.

The current version of the Senate’s bill includes a $4.49 billion cut to the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP). While there is an increase in funding to the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), there is not enough to restore the deep cuts made to TEFAP last year. This is cause for concern across the country and here in New York City: enrollment in SNAP topped 1.8 million in the city in 2010 and has remained at this historic high since then.

With this resolution, the Council urges Congress to take action and increase funding for these vital programs.

“I have become a strong advocate for sustainable agriculture, and the Farm Bill represents an opportunity to build off the momentum we have in New York City, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Quinn, and address issues of hunger; access to healthy, local food; environmental protection; and local economic growth. My resolution calls on the federal government to pass an adequately funded Farm Bill that supports a robust food system in New York City and across the country,” said Council Member Gale Brewer.

“The 2012 reauthorization of the Farm bill provides a critical opportunity to address food insecurity, improve access to healthy and affordable food, positively impact the economy and protect the environment,” said Health Committee Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “The Council calls on the federal government to ensure adequate funding for food assistance programs, which provide a critical safety net for more than 1.8 million New Yorkers, and to protect other programs which promote the production of good jobs and good food.”

Rent Guidelines Board Resolution
This resolution calls on the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, Senate bill S.741-B, and its Assembly companion bill A.6394-B, in relation to the Rent Guidelines Board.

Members of the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) are appointed by the Mayor. These appointments are not subject to the advice and consent of the City Council. The State’s legislation would grant the City Council this influence over the Mayor’s appointments to the RGB. This opportunity would allow the City Council to evaluate the housing background of proposed appointees and their qualifications to serve on the board, creating proper oversight over a body with the power to affect the lives of nearly one million New Yorkers.

Additionally, the bills would allow the five public members of the RGB to have five years of experience in public service, philanthropy, social services, urban planning and social sciences in addition to the current categories of finance, economics or housing, allowing for more diverse perspectives and expertise among the membership of the RGB.

“I am proud to sponsor this resolution so that future members of the Rent Guidelines Board may better represent the public interest,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “It is important for the City Council to have input on appointees to the RGB because we offer a wide variety of views on the composition of the board. Thanks are due to Speaker Quinn and especially to Council Member Letitia James for her leadership on this issue. We collectively urge our colleagues in Albany to pass this legislation.”