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BK Blog Post
Posted by Tom Devine.
Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked to assist thousands of whistleblowers to come forward and has been involved in the all of the campaigns to pass or defend major whistleblower laws over the last two decades.
During Sunshine Week, the Government Accountability Project and nearly 30 organizations and whistleblowers put a spotlight on Senate bipartisan legislation to protect FBI whistleblowers.
Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Leahy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (FBI WPEA) of 2015 (S. 2390) would upgrade one of the least effective whistleblower policies in the U.S. Code and ensure that the nation’s top law enforcement agency is held accountable to the rule of law. The bill currently enjoys bipartisan support from six republicans and five democrats, most of whom are members of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus.
On March 17th GAP and a broad spectrum of organizations – ranging from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the American Library Association to the Liberty Coalition and the Rutherford Institute – joined by whistleblowers such as Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI agent who disclosed the Bureau’s pre-9/11 lapses (and later became the 2002 Time “Person of the Year”), sent a letter underscoring the need for S.2390 –
The government's lack of accountability has been demonstrated in several cases including the revelations on the government's continuous use of inaccurate laboratory tests that continue to threaten the integrity of high stakes federal prosecutions; security breaches that were a contributing factor in failing to prevent 9/11; and participation in mass surveillance practices deemed unlawful by some federal courts and fundamentally redesigned under the USA Freedom Act.
Disturbingly, the system of rights to protect FBI whistleblowers, for all practical purposes, is the FBI's internal management issuing unpublished decisions that routinely rubber-stamp whatever retaliation is challenged. Under the FBI WPEA, mechanisms will be put in place to effectively protect public servants at the FBI from adverse employment actions for challenging abuses of power that betray the public trust. This pending legislation would transform the agency’s current whistleblower “rights” from a trap to a credible free speech shield …
Specifically, the bill would:
* Expand coverage to all relevant witnesses, including applicants for employment or new positions;
* Close loopholes that previously excluded protection for disclosures to supervisors, within the chain of command and to Congress;
* Grant authority for the Office of Inspector General to obtain temporary relief against retaliation through “stays” while an appeal proceeds;
* Establish parity for protected activity with the WPA to cover the full scope of relevant misconduct, including illegality, gross waste, gross mismanagement, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety;
* Increase transparency into how the Act works in practice, through publication of its track record ranging from the number of cases filed and completed, to the whistleblowers’ won-loss record;
* Commission independent review by the Government Accountability Office of the Act’s track record, to facilitate further improvements based on lessons learned; and
* Provide parity with the WPA in many critical respects, including by:
In the words of Justice Louis Brandeis, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In honor of Sunlight Week in 2016, Congress should follow the lead of the Judiciary Committee and members of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus through swift passage of the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
The complete letter can be viewed here
Signatories of the letter include:
Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation
Campaign for Liberty
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel
Elaine Mittleman, Department of the Treasury Whistleblower
Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association (FLEOA)
Fight for the Future
Government Accountability Project
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Security Counselors
National Whistleblower Center
The Niskanen Center
Marvell D. Lavy, Department of Veterans Affairs Whistleblower
PEN American Center
Project On Government Oversight
Restore The Fourth
The Rutherford Institute
Taxpayers Protections Alliance
Whistleblower Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
World Privacy Forum