WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today advanced a bill introduced by Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy to improve the process for FBI employees who report fraud, waste or misconduct. The bipartisan FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act establishes key FBI whistleblower safeguards similar to the protections already in place at other federal law enforcement and civil service agencies. It also improves efficiency, oversight, and independence in the investigation and adjudication of employees’ claims of reprisal. The bill cleared the committee by voice vote.
“FBI employees have long faced vague and confusing rules for how to properly disclose problems because of the FBI’s unusual exemption from the normal whistleblower protections for other federal employees. The confusion and lack of an independent process has landed too many people in hot water for simply telling the truth. This bill provides a clear statutory process to enhance protections while streamlining the review of reprisal cases. Sen. Leahy and I have worked hard to improve the environment for whistleblowers at the FBI. With today’s vote in the Judiciary Committee, we are one step closer to ensuring FBI employees can raise the alarm when necessary without fear of backlash,” Grassley said.
“Senator Grassley and I both believe that whistleblowers play an essential role in providing transparency and accountability in the federal government. That is why we worked closely together to author the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancements Act, which help protect FBI employees who report wrongdoing at the agency and shields them from unjust retaliation. We have heard of numerous instances in which FBI employees who report waste, fraud, or abuse were not afforded whistleblower protections. This has to change. I urge the Senate to pass our common-sense bill and protect those employees who dare to speak up and report concerns to their superiors,” 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 require disclosures to be made to a limited group of senior officials even though FBI policy encourages employees to report to supervisors. As a result, FBI whistleblowers often make their initial disclosure to a supervisor, but have no legal protection in the event of retaliation. The FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act 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 would allow for an independent review by a 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.
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.