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IGs look to curb reprisals against whistleblowers

Two federal agency inspectors general told lawmakers at a Jan. 28 hearing that whistleblowers looking to report misconduct shouldn't be subject to reprisals and ought to be able to maintain anonymity if they choose.

The hearing of the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Reform Committee was held as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continued in the Senate. That trial turns on the conduct of a whistleblower who brought allegations of presidential misconduct to a congressional committee.

"In tweets and statements to the press, the president himself has tried to identify the whistleblower and has called upon others to publicly identify the whistleblower. Threats against the whistleblower are reportedly increasing," subcommittee chairman Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said. "This is a sad and, for me, dangerous moment for whistleblowers."

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department IG and the chairman of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, testified that "individuals who step forward and report wrongdoing or what they reasonably believed to be wrongdoing should not face even the threat of retaliation."

Glenn Fine, acting IG for the Defense Department, testified that in recent years, military whistleblowers faced risk of reprisals and those alleged to have meted out such reprisals were unlikely to face discipline.

"It is a disturbing trend. I point out in my testimony that there are at least two other cases where the same thing happened. [Agency officials] declined to take action in a substantiated case without providing detailed or persuasive reasons why. That is a disturbing trend, and we think … a spotlight ought to be shined and questions …  asked about that."

Much of the questioning from Republicans mirrored arguments from the Senate impeachment trial, focusing on the intelligence community whistleblower who brought the Ukraine allegations to light and the conduct of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the lead impeachment trial managers, and his staff.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said he wondered what impact the controversy, and in particular Trump's remarks, would have on whistleblowers and federal employers who are considering reporting official misconduct, abuse or fraud.

"I would say it has a chilling effect, especially in the intelligence community, where it’s already so hard to enforce legal protections,” Elizabeth Hempowicz of the Project on Government Oversight testified.

Connolly and witnesses also bemoaned the lack of a quorum for appeals at the Merit Systems Protection Board, where feds who are appealing adverse personnel actions that they say are reprisals for whistleblowing can take their cases.

"The hearing is also a reminder that the Merit Systems Protection Board, the independent agency that serves as the guardian of the federal merit system, still lacks a quorum and remains unable to issue final decisions in cases where employees' rights are at stake," Connolly said in his opening remarks.

Reader comments

Sun, Mar 8, 2020 Noneya Bidness

What IS "the big outfit in Bethesda?" What does that even mean? 😒

Mon, Feb 10, 2020

At the big outfit in Bethesda if the management was removed from their positions because of corruption, age and gender bias there would be a vast increase in morale issues and the empty void would not affect the work being done by hard working honest individuals. There would be a savings to the tax payers.

Sun, Feb 9, 2020

The corruption in Bethesda sounds like the corruption in Newark NJ. I had no idea reporting illegal actions would ruin my life but it has. Most people have no idea what Customs is capable of. There is no justice.

Tue, Feb 4, 2020

mm you are absolutely correct. Only the guilty think they need to talk to the whistleblower. Even when evidence is overwhelming (and it is) the republican senators just choose to ignore the truth. History will not be kind to them and it should not be. They are a bunch of the presidents puppets. This kind of stink will not be easily removed.

Tue, Feb 4, 2020

At the big outfit in Bethesda, corrupt management is the norm. if an employee questions an action done by a supervisor they are forced in to retirement or placed in an adverse work environment. The management above those corrupt supervisors provide bonuses to inept crooked managers all up the ladder.

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