FBI whistleblower protections increased

FBI whistleblower protections increased


The Justice Department this week released what many consider to be long overdue measures to protect whistleblowers at the FBI.

Congress authorized the protections for workers who report misconduct in the bureau nine years ago, but it wasn't until Tuesday that Attorney General Janet Reno published the protection plan in the Federal Register.

The 1989 law required that the Justice Department provide FBI employees with whistleblower protections equal to those guaranteed most federal workers. When the original whistleblower legislation was passed in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, FBI workers were excluded due to the sensitivity of their jobs.

Under the new plan, FBI employees must be allowed to report "information that evidences a violation of any law, mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority or a substantial specific danger to public health" to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility or inspector general without retaliation.

The Office of Professional Responsibility and the IG are then supposed to investigate the claims and recommend stays of personnel actions and corrective measures where appropriate to the director of Justice's Office of Attorney Personnel Management, who will make all final decisions.

FBI whistleblowers will not have, as federal whistleblowers do, the right to have their claims reviewed by federal courts. However, the new rules do provide that cases can be appealed to the deputy attorney general, who can modify actions found to be arbitrary, obtained without procedures required by law or unsupported by substantial evidence.

The National Whistleblower Center, a whistleblower defense group, called the plan "ineffective and incomplete," the Associated Press reported.

Stephen Kohn, an attorney for three former FBI employees who filed suit last month, charging whistleblower retaliation, said that the 1989 law provides the authority for judicial review of FBI whistleblower cases.

The requirements for safeguards equal to those of other federal workers "would require some independent review of these cases outside the Department of Justice," Kohn said.

Kohn also noted that the plan fails to protect FBI whistleblowers who make disclosures to Congress.