WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight led a coalition letter to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees signed by several whistleblower and government accountability organizations outlining concerns over the most recent draft of the Intelligence Authorization Act. As written, the legislation could be read to roll back existing protections for FBI whistleblowers to report wrongdoing to Congress.
Under current law, all FBI employees who “furnish information to either House of Congress, or to a committee or Member thereof,” are protected. FBI employees are not required to first make their disclosures to any specific inspector general or particular committee in order to secure their rights against retaliation.
“Yet, as currently written, Section 321 of S. 2610 could be read to limit those rights in a way that would confuse and discourage FBI whistleblowers from coming forward, setting an untenable precedent [and] shrinking existing statutory protections for whistleblowers’ access to Congress,” wrote the organizations.
The letter also quoted Dan Meyer, Managing Partner of Tully Rinckey’s Washington, DC office and member of Empower Oversight’s Whistleblower Advisory Panel raising concerns about the bottlenecks when whistleblowers’ options for reporting are too limited, such as those he saw as the Director Civilian Reprisal Investigations (DCRI) for the Defense Department from 2003 to 2010: “Repeatedly our whistleblowers would make disclosures that were not acted on … So, backlogs formed and there was pressure to not have a robust system of disclosure,” Meyer said.
“To limit this access to Congress would run counter the checks and balances in our constitutional system,” the groups wrote. “Accordingly, we urge that you work together constructively to amend Section 321 consistent with these concerns and protect FBI employees’ rights to blow the whistle to Congress,” the organizations concluded.
While this legislation was being considered on the Senate floor, Senator Chuck Grassley put a hold on the bill due to his concerns about the effect the legislation may have on FBI whistleblowers.
Empower Oversight signed the letter alongside Protect the FBI, Project on Government Oversight, National Whistleblower Center, and Government Accountability Project.