Whistleblowers in the FBI have found themselves at risk of retaliation and lacking adequate protections because the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) have negligently not implemented priority recommendations from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In January 2015, the Government Accountability Office identified four priority recommendations regarding whistleblowers and the FBI. Moreover, the FBI, under the Department of Justice, concurred with these recommendations. Yet in the years since then, the priority recommendations were never implemented. In an April 10, 2019 letter to Attorney General William P. Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Gene L. Dodato, the Comptroller General of the United States, wrote:
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Whistleblower Retaliation Complaints. We have four priority recommendations in this area. In January 2015, we recommended improvements to DOJ’s handling of FBI whistleblower retaliation complaints to help FBI whistleblowers ensure that they are fully protected from retaliation and enhance DOJ’s accountability. … DOJ concurred with each of these recommendations but, as of April 2019, has not updated its regulations to provide clarity, given complainants timeframes for returning decisions, developed an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with requirements, or assessed the impact of efforts to reduce the duration of complaints or requirements.
For FBI agents, whistleblowers both current and future, this is a crisis. The National Whistleblower Center has amassed extensive research, as well as statements from top law enforcement officials, showing that those with information about fraud, corruption, and other criminal behavior must have legal avenues to bring to light those abuses without fear of retaliation. The law provides for FBI employees to make protected disclosures without retaliation; the practical reality must, as well. The National Whistleblower Center wrote a letter to Attorney General Barr and Director Wray urging the FBI to immediately update its regulations to implement the GAO recommendations.
Whistleblower retaliation complaints highlight ongoing, systemic problems in the FBI’s handling of protected disclosures, which can and should be immediately rectified in accordance with GAO recommendations. In order for an FBI employee to make a protected disclosure, they must know whom to give that information to in a legal manner. Additionally, transparency about the process for the whistleblower themselves, including a decision timeframe regarding the complaint, is crucial for an effective system. Finally, FBI leadership must put oversight functions in place to internally monitor these issues.
The NWC urges the DOJ and FBI to rectify its failure to implement the GAO recommendations and to act promptly to protect whistleblowers.
The Whistleblower Blog published a post on the issue, noting that, “So far, the agency has not:
- Clarified regulations,
- Given complainants timeframes for returning decisions,
- Developed an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with requirements, and
- Assessed the impact of efforts to reduce the duration of complaints or requirements.”
This isn’t the first time that the National Whistleblower Center has worked to protect whistleblowers in the FBI. Dr. Frederic Whitehurst is a former FBI scientist who “blew the whistle” on misconduct within the FBI crime lab, resulting in extensive reforms being made. He was America’s first successful FBI whistleblower. His case exposed forensic fraud in the FBI crime lab and subjected it to outside oversight for the first time. In 1997, the law firm of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, with now NWC Board Chairman Stephen M. Kohn, won a landmark victory and was responsible for a historic Presidential Executive Order ensuring whistleblower protection rights for FBI agents who expose misconduct. Dr. Whitehurst is the Executive Director of the NWC’s Forensic Justice Project, a member of the Board of Directors and an honorary member of the Whistleblower Leadership Council, and continues to work with whistleblowers each and every day. Read more about Dr. Whitehurst, including videos about and from the case, and media coverage about his case, here.
Forensic Justice Project
Commencing in 1993, the Center took on the daunting task of documenting forensic fraud and abuses in the world-renowned FBI crime lab. As a direct result of information disclosed by an FBI scientist, Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, the US Department of Justice issued an extensive report validating most of the whistleblower’s claims. As a result, the FBI agreed to unprecedented reforms including: outside accreditation of its crime lab, the appointment of an objective, independent scientist to oversee lab operations, and removal of various lab officials who had engaged in forensic misconduct.
After leading a successful six-year campaign to reform the FBI’s Forensic Crime Lab, the Center’s Forensic Justice Project (FJP) has taken on a review of misconduct in crime labs nationwide. The cases under review have impacted many potential wrongful convictions, have resulted in the review of thousands of cases, and have given freedom to wrongfully convicted defendants. In addition to reviewing misconduct at state crime labs, the FJP continues to monitor and expose problems within the FBI crime lab.
Visit the Whistleblower Protection Blog for updates on the FJP.
- Read the letter written by Gene L. Dodato, the Comptroller General of the United States, to Attorney General William P. Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray here.
- Read the letter written by the National Whistleblower Center to Attorney General William P. Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray, urging the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations to implement these priority recommendations here.
- Read the blog post on the issue published by the Whistleblower Blog: “For Federal Bureau of Investigation whistleblowers, recommended changes come slowly.“
- Read another related blog post published by the Whistleblower Blog, about problems continuing at the FBI decades after Dr. Fredric Whitehurst blew the whistle: “An FBI whistleblower flagged problems with forensics 25 years ago. A new report finds they persist, this time with video analysis.“