They are concerned agency heads could be scaring employees away from disclosing wrongdoing.
Four oversight and good government organizations sent letters to 25 federal agencies on Monday asking them to reinforce their employees' whistleblower rights amid the presidential transition.
The Government Accountability Project, American Oversight, Protect Democracy and Public Citizen sent the letters to agencies out concern that top officials could be intimidating employees who might be witnessing wrongdoing. Many are involved in the transition process, which is happening against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus pandemic and President Trump’s refusal to concede the election with less than a month until Inauguration Day.
“In the last two years alone, whistleblowers have raised the alarm about shocking abuses of authority, including President Trump’s effort to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election” and “the use of excessive, unprovoked force on peaceful racial justice protesters at St. John’s church for a presidential photo-op,” said the press release. “Despite this, across the government whistleblowers have faced reprisal and efforts to chill communications between themselves and the president-elect transition teams.” The groups added that the executive order Trump signed in October reclassifying federal employees in policy-making positions into a new Schedule F will strip them of “civil service protections—including whistleblower protections—before the transition to a Biden administration.”
The groups outlined the specific protections most federal employees, contractors and grantees have under various laws, such as the right to not be retaliated against for making disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel, inspectors general, Congress, the press or incoming president’s transition team, “so long as the disclosed information is not barred from release by statute or executive order” and the right to seek legal counsel.
“Federal employees may soon be witness to, and choose to disclose, evidence of a whole host of abuses, including but not limited to federal records destruction, politicized censorship of science or intelligence data, fraud related to COVID-19 relief spending, gross misuse of funds, or misinformation used by political appointees and elected officials used to justify military actions or to prompt retaliatory investigations against politically disfavored individuals,” the groups wrote in the letter. Your workforce should not be prohibited or chilled from, or retaliated against for, legally reporting evidence of such wrongdoing. Rather, they should be encouraged to do so.”
The groups sent the letters as part of the Government Accountability Project’s “Democracy Protection Initiative," which launched in September to protect employees’ rights to blow the whistle on attempts to subvert the election process or disrupt the transition.
This comes after Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly urged career staffers last week to “be the resistance” with the incoming Biden administration and the Defense Department and Biden transition team gave differing accounts on Friday about the status of the Pentagon transition briefings.
Despite progress agency review teams are making, “We have met isolated resistance in some corners, including from political appointees within the Department of Defense,” Yohannes Abraham, Biden-Harris transition executive director, said during a briefing on Friday. “I do want to just take a minute to thank the DoD career professionals who have made valiant efforts to be helpful over the course of this process.”