Lawmakers seek agency policies on email surveillance

After FDA whistleblower case, Congress looks into privacy limits.

Top congressional Republicans are pushing the Office of Management and Budget to investigate electronic monitoring policies across all federal agencies.

In a March 5 letter to OMB acting Director Jeffrey Zients, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Oversight Committee chairman and Judiciary Committee ranking member, respectively, called for the Obama administration to look into electronic surveillance in the federal workforce.

“We request that OMB conduct a comprehensive survey of all federal agencies to determine agencies’ policies with respect to monitoring federal employees’ personal email accounts,” Issa and Grassley wrote.

They are seeking information regarding whether every agency has an official policy for monitoring employee email, whether the policy allows for employees to access personal accounts on government computers without fear of being monitored, and how the policy defines disclosures to Congress and the Office of Special Counsel.

The letter was prompted by details that recently surfaced regarding Food and Drug Administration whistleblowers who sent warnings concerning agency approval of faulty medical devices to OSC and congressional representatives, including Grassley’s office.

FDA employees sent the emails from their personal accounts using government computers. A government probe suggested FDA officials had monitored the correspondence to later harass or fire the employees.

OMB is reviewing the letter, according to spokeswoman Moira Mack.

“The Obama administration strongly supports whistleblower protections and has sought to deliver a more open and transparent government to make it more accountable to the American people,” Mack said.

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