Grassley Floor Statement on Whistleblower Retaliation at the U.S. Marshals Service
Prepared Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On Whistleblower Retaliation at the U.S. Marshals Service
August 5, 2015
Mr. President, many of you know my belief in -- and respect for -- the efforts of whistleblowers.
Men and women who -- often at great cost to their own careers and personal well-being -- raise their voice when they see things happening they know are wrong.
And so it was with great joy that I participated just last Thursday with about two dozen whistleblowers and hundreds of their family, friends and supporters, in the first annual Congressional celebration of National Whistleblowers Day.
In my remarks, I said that agency leadership needs to follow the example my colleagues and I set with the Whistleblower Protection Caucus. They need to send a strong signal that whistleblowers are valued, and that retaliation is not tolerated. After all, the need to protect whistleblowers is not new, and it’s not going away.
In the midst of the Whistleblower Appreciation Day celebration, I received yet another harsh reminder that retaliation is alive and well. At the very time several of my colleagues and I shared our appreciation for whistleblowers, U.S. Marshals Service whistleblowers told me that the hunt was on for folks in that agency who disclosed wrongdoing to my office.
How ironic -- as we recognized the bravery and benefit of whistleblowers past – a new set of truth tellers were facing the harsh consequences that all too often come with their brave action of exposing wrongdoing.
Agencies use many pretexts to hunt, punish and intimidate whistleblowers. What pretext is the Marshals Service using? I am told the Marshals Service has launched an Internal Affairs investigation to find what they describe as a leak to the media.
This is a dubious claim.
For one, news stories about the problems at the Marshals Service are not new. Second, there are many stories in several different magazines and newspapers that strongly suggest there are many sources. Finally, I understand that Marshals Service Internal Affairs has allegedly seized the personal property of at least one of its so-called “targets”.
I also understand that this personal property contains privileged communications with the target’s attorney and protected disclosures to Members of Congress.
I would like to note some things for leaders at the Marshals Service -- and at any Federal Agency.
First, protections for whistleblowers under the Whistleblowers Protection Act are not just there for reporting to Congress, or reporting to the IG or reporting to the Office of Special Counsel. The Supreme Court has said disclosures to the media may be covered if the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by statute or Executive Order – even if such a disclosure violates an agency rule. So not only does this investigation appear to be retaliatory, its supposed justification is not obviously legitimate.
Second, even if there was nothing suspicious or retaliatory about the so-called investigation, it cannot be true that investigators need protected and privileged material to carry it out.
Third, the recent track record of the Marshals Service on whistleblower protection is pretty dismal. The Internal Affairs inquiry follows months of investigation by Congress, the Inspector General, and the Office of Special Counsel into allegations of misconduct at the U.S. Marshals Service. It also follows at least two inaccurate and misleading responses from the Marshals Service and the Justice Department to letters from my Committee. And it follows numerous letters reporting allegations of widespread retaliation—and very deep fears employees have of such reprisal.
Just so we are clear, over 60 current and former U.S. Marshals Service employees have made disclosures to my office since March. That is over 1.1% of the agency. Many of the reports include allegations that the Marshals Service frequently uses Internal Affairs investigations as mechanisms for reprisal.
Reprisal for what? For engaging in activities explicitly protected by law. Multiple whistleblowers from all across the Marshals Service have also told me that Internal Affairs does whatever it can to charge employees with misconduct—regardless of what the evidence actually says.
So I thought the Justice Department would understand why I have concerns about this investigation and about the way the Marshals are apparently handling it. Remarkably, the Justice Department has told me that this is all none of my business.
I strongly disagree.
When you hear these sorts of things once or twice, there’s a bit of a problem. When you hear them more than 60 times in less than five months, you start to understand there’s a pattern there.
From where I sit, it seems to me the best thing for the agency to do is to get some outside input into this so-called investigation. The Department should be willing to work with me, other Members of Congress, the Inspector General, and the Office of Special Counsel, to ensure that whistleblower rights are fully protected. But officials won't even sit down and talk to us about it.
Senator Leahy and I sent a joint letter to the Attorney General last Friday asking for a briefing as soon as possible. The answer? They claimed it would be “inappropriate” to discuss it with us.
I'll tell you what would be inappropriate: using internal administrative inquiries to hunt down whistleblowers and stiff arm Congressional scrutiny. That's what would be inappropriate.
If the Justice Department and the Marshals Service think I’m just going to go away or give up on this, then they’re even less competent than I feared.
I yield the floor.