Calling whistle-blowers "public servants of the highest order," President Bush signed legislation giving new protections to federal employees who expose waste, fraud and abuse in government.

At a ceremony Monday in the auditorium of the Executive Office Building, Bush signed into law the "Whistle-blowers Protection Act of 1989," which he said is free of the "constitutional flaws" that led President Reagan to pocket veto a similar bill last October.The audience included some congressional sponsors and consumer advocate Ralph Nader - invited to a White House event for the first time since 1978 - but one of the government's most prominent waste-watchers, Ernest Fitzgerald, who was vindicated in the courts for his complaints of cost overruns on the Pentagon's huge C5-A cargo plane, was not on hand.

"A true whistle-blower is a public servant of the highest order," Bush said. "And I share the determination of Congress that we do everything possible to ensure that these dedicated men and women should not be fired or rebuked or suffer financially for their honesty and good judgment."

The legislation was the first substantive bill adopted in the 101st Congress, and the president said it "is an example of how the Congress and administration can work together and sharpen legislation."