Longtime advocate of whistleblower protections Sen. Chuck Grassley delivered a strongly-worded floor statement to the United States Senate on Thursday, saying that FBI agents, and all federal law enforcement agents, are protected when reporting misconduct to Congress, and they should not fear retaliation. The Senator from Iowa and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared up any misconception of agents not being able to approach Congress without a subpoena.
“FBI agents and all federal law enforcement are protected for providing information to Congress. That’s true whether it is by a subpoena or not,” said Grassley. “If that is news to you, I encourage you to research the law yourself. It is found at title 5, United States Code, section 2303.”
Contrary to FBI institutional myths and some current press reports, FBI employees do not need to receive a subpoena to be legally protected when providing information to Congress.
Earlier this year, Grassley responded to a memo written by Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructing Justice Department heads not to communicate with Congress “without advance coordination and consultation” with the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA). Grassley argued that the memo does not adhere with existing law, saying that the memo “fail[ed] to address the rights of employees to make protected disclosures directly to Congress.”
The laws governing the rights of federal employees clearly state that non-disclosure agreements or policies must contain a clear exception for lawful whistleblowing. Grassley stated that “if unelected bureaucrats have so much contempt for an employee who voluntarily informs the people’s elected representatives of facts necessary to do oversight… then the leaders of those agencies are not doing their jobs. They are failing in their responsibilities as leaders.”
“No FBI agent or other government employee should be afraid to cooperate with Congress or the Inspector General,” said Grassley. “Any FBI agent who has information to provide or questions about their rights to provide it should not hesitate to reach out and ask.”
For many years, the National Whistleblower Center has been at the forefront of efforts to support legal reforms to improve whistleblower protections for FBI employees. Congress strengthened FBI whistleblower rights, most recently in December of 2016 when Congress unanimously passed the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, originally introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). That law expressly amended the FBI whistleblower protection statute to provide that FBI employees are protected if they report information to Congress, by incorporating into the FBI whistleblower statute the provision of 5 U.S.C. § 7211, which states:
The right of employees, individually or collectively, to petition Congress or a Member of Congress, or to furnish information to either House of Congress, or to a committee or Member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied.
Thanks to bipartisan support from a unanimous Congress, it is expressly illegal for the FBI to interfere with or deny any FBI employee or agent the ability “to furnish information” to Congress.
Watch Senator Grassley’s statement.
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