WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy today introduced legislation to improve the response to FBI employees who call attention to fraud, waste or misconduct within the bureau. The FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act brings the FBI’s whistleblower disclosure protocols in line with all other federal law enforcement and civil service agencies and streamlines procedures for investigation, adjudication and oversight of employee claims.
“It’s no secret that FBI whistleblowers often face harsh consequences for simply trying to address failures or misconduct at work. Inconsistent and confusing disclosure rules and perpetual delays in retaliation investigations have left well-intentioned whistleblowers without adequate protections from reprisal. The FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act expands outlets for protected disclosures and improves processes to halt reprisal. We should be encouraging whistleblowers who help fix flaws in government. This bill takes meaningful steps to improve the environment for these brave Americans at the FBI,” Grassley said.
“Whistleblowers serve an essential role in providing transparency and accountability in the Federal government. It is important that all government employees are provided with strong and effective avenues to come forward with evidence of government abuse and misuse, and that they have protections from retaliation. The bipartisan FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancements Act of 2015 will help to ensure that FBI employees are able to blow the whistle on waste, fraud or abuse at the FBI and not face personal repercussions for when they do. This is a commonsense bill that I hope the Senate will soon pass,” Leahy said.
Unlike most other federal employees, FBI employees are not protected from reprisal when they disclose wrongdoing to their supervisors. Instead, Justice Department regulations restrict protections to disclosures made to a limited group of senior officials even though FBI policy encourages reporting to supervisors. As a result, FBI whistleblowers often make the initial disclosure to a supervisor, but have no legal protection in the event of retaliation. The bipartisan bill being introduced today ensures that FBI employees and applicants who make disclosures to their supervisors are protected from retaliation. It also reiterates employees’ longstanding rights to communicate with Congress.
The bill increases the independence of FBI whistleblower investigations by establishing the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General as the sole body responsible for investigating claims of whistleblower retaliation and removing the responsibility from the department’s internal Office of Professional Responsibility. If the OIG determines a whistleblower has suffered a retaliatory personnel action for reporting wrongdoing, that punishment will be suspended pending adjudication of the case.
The bill shifts adjudication responsibilities from the Justice Department’s Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management to experienced administrative law judges. The appeals process moves out of the Deputy Attorney General’s office to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The bill also requires the Justice Department to issue annual reports on the number and dispositions of whistleblower reprisal claims for the previous calendar year.
Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey agreed that FBI employees who report wrongdoing to their supervisors should be protected, adding, “I think it’s very, very important that we create the safe zones that all of our people need to raise concerns that they might have. … I will continue to try and work with you to try and improve that.”
The Grassley-Leahy bill follows a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing and reports from the Government Accountability Office and the Justice Department on the challenges presented by the FBI’s current whistleblower response scheme. The reports and hearing highlighted the FBI’s inconsistent disclosure protocols, chronic delays in investigation and adjudication of retaliation and consistent failures to update whistleblowers on the status of their cases.