Washington, D.C. March 4, 2015. The lack of whistleblower protections for FBI employees was the subject of a Senate Judiciary Hearing held Wednesday, March 4. Senators from both sides of the aisle were outraged by the amount of retaliation FBI whistleblowers face along with the failure of the FBI whistleblower program to appropriately handle such cases.
Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center, testified before the Committee stating that
“The Department of Justice’s program for protecting FBI whistleblowers is broken.”
“Whistleblowers should not have to fear retaliation for speaking up, and they should not have to wait a decade for relief,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said during the hearing.
“If you have an employee who knows about wrongdoing I think they have to have real avenues where they can come forward and tell about it and not be punished for actually letting taxpayers and everyone else know what’s going on” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) “They have to be protected from retaliation.”
The Senators were reacting to both testimonies given at the hearing and a February 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that whistleblower protections at the FBI are weaker than at any other agency. The GAO Report found that the Department of Justice’s FBI whistleblower process leaves some FBI whistleblowers without protection from retaliation, which creates a chilling effect. The GAO report also found that many FBI whistleblower complaints were dismissed based on the fact that the disclosure was made to the wrong supervisor in the employee’s chain of command.
Near the end of the hearing, Senator Grassley read an email that was the subject of a Washington Times article. The email was from a FBI agent who is considering blowing the whistle on a “secret terrorism and counterintelligence surveillance program” to a FBI attorney, within the Office of Integrity and Compliance. The attorney responded that if the employee had a reasonable belief that misconduct occurred, they could blow the whistle. However, the attorney continued “I’m sure you know, though, this does not guarantee that you will not be retaliated against, even though retaliation/reprisal for making protected disclosures is illegal.”
National Whistleblower Center Action Alert: Tell Congress to fix the FBI whistleblower program
Senate Judiciary Committee: Whistleblower Retaliation at the FBI: Improving Protections and Overisght