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Grassley-Led Caucus to FBI: Protect Whistleblowers

There appears to be more action than usual on Capitol Hill to promote the rights of Whistleblowers, and that is a very good thing. It could be the result of the new “whistleblower caucus” starting to move. The Washington Post reported on a Senate Hearing conducted by (who else) Charles Grassley (R-Whistleblowers) on the rules affecting FBI Agents who become whistleblowers. Between delays in action on whistleblower complaints and a lack of protection for FBI whistleblowers there is a lot for the Senate to consider.

Some of Senator Grassley’s statements can be found here.

Full disclosure, I used to work for the National Whistleblowers Center, and Stephen Kohn testified at this hearing on the organization’s behalf.

Most importantly, the Government Accountability Office has apparently provided the Committee with a report on the obstacles facing FBI whistleblowers. Chairman Grassley detailed numerous problems within the FBI and its treatment of whistleblowers.  He gave one reason for examining the FBI as follows:

“The FBI’s whistleblower policies need special scrutiny because the legal protections for its employees are weaker than at any other agency. The FBI is not subject to the Whistleblower Protection Act. It has its own, special rules, and employees have no ability to appeal for an independent judgment outside the Justice Department.”

Of course, we all should be particularly concerned that the FBI works to protect internal whistleblowers. I think it is fair to say the more power we entrust with a government agency, the safer we all could feel knowing that wrongdoing within that agency can be exposed by people without fear of retribution.  The particular cases of FBI whistleblowers discussed in the hearing regard serious whistleblowers who faced huge obstacles.

There is perhaps a special reason we should hope the FBI will act to protect whistleblowers within its agency.  Anything we can do to sensitize the FBI to the whistleblowers position is ultimately a major victory for all whistleblower issues, including cases filed under the False Claims Act.

We need government investigators to investigate wrongdoing. We also need investigators and Justice Department Officials who understand the crucial importance of whistleblowers when seeking the truth in any situation. If the main investigatory agency in the country treats its own internal whistleblowers properly, that can spill over to other government agencies and affect the general attitude toward whistleblowers who want to report serious cases to the government. The attitude, that whistleblowers must be protected is key to any attempt to expose wrongdoing.

Chairman Grassley’s statement made clear both that he was not happy with the FBI’s whistleblower track record and that he was not going to let it continue:

“The FBI culture requires a deep respect for the chain of command. The FBI encourages employees to report wrongdoing to their supervisors and within the chain of command. But it does not tell them they will have no recourse if they experience retaliation for doing so.”

The FBI has been challenged now, to do something to protect whistleblowers within its agency.  Hopefully the new whistleblower caucus forming around Grassley will follow up this hearing with new legislation as well.