Lawmakers Call on GAO to Examine FBI Whistleblower Protections
Five years after Congress passed a law reforming the bureau’s whistleblower program, the Justice Department still has not issued regulations to implement those changes.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers this month asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct a new review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s whistleblower protection program after years of inaction despite calls for reform.
In 2015, GAO highlighted a number of weaknesses in the FBI’s whistleblower rules, including a lack of clarity in terms of where whistleblowers can make protected disclosures and an inability of employees who believe they were retaliated against to challenge adverse personnel actions. The following year, Congress passed the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a bill aimed at reforming the FBI’s whistleblower protection program, but to date, the Justice Department has not issued regulations to implement the law.
In a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro earlier this month, a group of lawmakers asked GAO to examine the issue again. Signing onto the letter were Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
“DOJ still has not promulgated regulations to implement Congress’ changes,” they wrote. “Our offices also continue to receive reports that many of the previous flaws found in the GAO report persist and that additional issues, such as retaliation against FBI employees via revocation of security clearances, are on the rise. Finally, unlike other federal employees, FBI employees still are required to make their claims internally and have no recourse to an independent appeals process.”
The lawmakers described a convoluted and ineffective system for whistleblowers to challenge alleged instances of retaliation, as only FBI employees who are veterans have access to the Merit Systems Protection Board. And those who do succeed before the MSPB often are subject to further retaliatory actions that are not under the MSPB’s purview.
“Multiple FBI whistleblowers have been reinstated to their positions after bringing and winning their cases before the MSPB only to have their [security] clearances subsequently revoked by the FBI,” they wrote. “In some cases, this occurs on their first day back with the FBI citing to the very same charges the MSPB overturned . . . FBI whistleblowers have reported that it is known in the bureau that the only way to regain a revoked clearance is to beg forgiveness from the FBI’s deciding authority for tarnishing the FBI’s reputation.”
The lawmakers asked GAO to examine the current state of whistleblower protections at the FBI as compared with the rest of the federal government and they asked the watchdog agency to investigate why the Justice Department has failed to implement the 2016 law improving protections.
“These extensive issues with the FBI’s current whistleblower program make the bureau one of the most difficult places in the federal government to report malfeasance,” the lawmakers wrote. “One attorney in the Office of Integrity and Compliance even reportedly told a prospective whistleblower that the FBI’s current rules "do not guarantee that you will not be retaliated against, even though retaliation/reprisal for making protected disclosures is illegal."
NEXT STORY: GovExec Daily: How to Address Improper Payments