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Whistleblowers will have a new friend at Justice

Ombudsman will educate employees and shield them from retaliation.

The Justice Department has created a new position to protect and educate whistleblowers, officials have announced.

The whistleblower ombudsman position will be filled by Robert Storch, a former federal prosecutor, and housed in the Justice inspector general’s office. The ombudsman will train employees about the importance of reporting potential misdeeds and monitor investigations that take place after a worker notes an incident.

"Whistleblowers play a critical role in uncovering waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement," Justice IG Michael Horowitz said in a statement, "and this new position will enable the OIG to continue its leadership as a strong and independent voice within the Department of Justice on whistleblower issues.”

Among the ombudsman’s responsibilities will be educating federal managers on the repercussions of taking retaliatory measures against employees who blow the whistle. Storch also will serve as a liaison with the Office of Special Counsel and nongovernmental organizations.

One such organization, the Government Accountability Project, praised Horowitz, who was sworn in as IG in April, for creating the position.

“In announcing this new position, Mr. Horowitz is off to a flying start toward earning trust from whistleblowers and their advocates,” Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director, said in a statement. “The relationship between whistleblowers and government investigators inherently is difficult and strained, at best. But a working relationship is indispensable for effective law enforcement, and OIGs can play a major role in preventing retaliation, or nipping it in the bud. The ombudsman post is an institutional commitment to start reaching that potential.”

Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center, was much more skeptical of the announcement, citing Justice’s “horrific” record with whistleblowers.

“The problems are so institutional,” Kohn said, “unless this ombudsman knows his way around the whistleblower world and has very powerful boxing gloves, it’s a waste of money.”

He added: “I hope this is a change. I am not optimistic.”