House passes bill to protect FBI whistleblowers

House passes bill to protect FBI whistleblowers
The House bill amends a loophole in a whistleblower protection law to include the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI was the only federal agency without whistleblower protection.

“HR 5790 would clarify Congress’s longstanding intent to protect whistleblowers when they make disclosures to the same supervisor who has the power to take personnel action against them,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, Utah), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government reform Committee, and lead sponsor of the bill, on Thursday.

The bill passed a house vote and had bipartisan support from co-sponsor Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D, New York).

The bill would amend the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act to “safeguard FBI employees who report waste, fraud, and abuse.” The legislation would also streamline the process for investigating incidents of retaliation and gives the Department of Justice Inspector General sole authority to investigate claims of retaliation.

“While a great many changes remain to be made in how DOJ and the FBI respond to whistleblowers, this commonsense clarification is not minor,” said Chaffetz. “If implemented, it would have far-reaching implications in protecting whistleblowers at the FBI, just as Congress intended in 1978 in the first whistleblower protection law.”

The House bill is a companion bill to a Senate one which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.

The move by Congress follows a Government Accountability Report recommendation in June 2015 which found, after reviewing whistleblower complaints made between 2009 and 2013, that complaints cases took anywhere from two to 10 years to close.

The report also found that the law enforcement agency terminated 17 complaints because an employee made a disclosure to someone who wasn’t a designated official.

“Dismissing retaliation complaints made to an employee's supervisor or someone in that person's chain of command leaves some FBI whistleblowers – such as the 17 complainants we identified – without protection from retaliation. By dismissing potentially legitimate complaints in this way, DOJ could deny some whistleblowers access to recourse, permit retaliatory activity to go uninvestigated, and create a chilling effect for future whistleblowers,” stated the GAO report.

The report said that “a former FBI agent alleged in 2002 she suffered retaliation after disclosing that colleagues had stolen items from Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

It took 10 years after the retaliation before the DOJ ruled in her favor.