Government Whistleblowers

Four years after the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed take steps to streamline the FBI whistleblower program, the agency has not taken action, according to a program review.

The Government Accountability Office issued recommendations in 2015 to make improvements like shortening the time it takes to process whistleblower complaints.

So far, the agency has not:
  • Clarified regulations
  • Given complainants timeframes for returning decisions
  • Developed an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with requirements
  • Assessed the impact of efforts to reduce the duration of complaints or requirements


Continue Reading

A selection of this week’s whistleblower news, including a harrowing tale of a group of war crimes whistleblowers.
NAVY

Some of details of the case against Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, as reported in The New York Times Tuesday, may sound familiar to many whistleblowers.  Here’s what reportedly occurred when Navy SEAL commandos reported their platoon chief had committed atrocities in Iraq.

(I)nstead of launching an investigation that day, the troop commander … warned the seven platoon members that speaking out could cost them and others their careers, according to the report.

 The Times story is based on a confidential Navy criminal investigation report obtained by the paper.

According to the investigation report, the troop commander, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, said in the meeting that while the SEALs were free to report the killings, the Navy might not look kindly on rank-and-file team members making allegations against a chief. Their careers could be sidetracked, he said, and their elite status revoked; referring to the eagle-and-trident badges worn by SEALs, he said the Navy “will pull your birds.”


Continue Reading

The General Office of Special Reviews of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General is looking into activities at the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). The Government Executive news site helps sort all that out.

VA Whistleblowers

And the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), where federal workers seek redress from retribution, is basically shut down. The Washington Post has something to say about that.

Last week brought these two tales of dysfunction in the systems that are supposed to protect federal whistleblowers.

VA

The Government Executive offers a thorough report on an investigation into the OAWP, a program designed to protect whistleblowers. The office “is now facing allegations of aiding retaliation against them.”


Continue Reading

4/23 update:  The LA Times has dug into the California Air National Guard scandal.

Allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard are more widespread than the complaints made at a Fresno air base that led to a dramatic leadership shakeup of the organization earlier this month, The Times has found.

The paper’s reporters found workers allege retaliation against whistleblowers and a failure of the Guard’s to protect them.

“When a person blows the whistle on wrongdoing, they face almost a guarantee of retaliation,” said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate who heads the Center for Law and Military Policy and alleges he was targeted for investigation after he reported possible misconduct five years ago. “It’s meant, as in all cases of retaliation, to send a message that if you hold the managers to account, if you bring to light their misconduct, that they’re going to make you pay for it.”

From 4/15: After Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard reported finding her boots full of urine, she felt the investigation had turned into a cover-up.

From the LA Times on this military whistleblower case: 

In August 2015, Pineda filed a whistle-blower complaint. She wrote that the main investigator told her that the evidence showed that a woman could not have urinated in the boots, but that she heard that officers speculated that she urinated in them “for attention.” In the complaint, Pineda said that “makes me want this investigation to be complete and legit to prove that I did not do this to myself.” She added that she feared she could be forced to leave the guard.


Continue Reading

More whistleblowing in the halls of Congress and other news of the week. 

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee,  issued a statement this week in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

“We honor the contributions of the brave men and women who report wrongdoing despite great risks to their careers and personal lives as a result of retaliation.  Without the WPA, very few whistleblowers would be willing to come forward.  Congress relies on the WPA to fulfill its Constitutional duty to provide checks and balances on the Executive Branch—the very root of our democracy.”

He noted the role of whistleblowers in the Committee’s investigation into reports of White House efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

The Atlantic reported last week that “small army of whistle-blowers from across the government has been working in secret with the House Oversight Committee to report alleged malfeasance inside the Trump administration. Lawmakers and aides are reluctant to discuss information they have gleaned from anonymous government tipsters in detail. But the list of whistle-blowers who either currently or previously worked in the Trump administration, or who worked closely with the administration, numbers in the ‘dozens’,” according to an aide to Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.

NPR also reported on the anniversary of the WPA.

ROBERT MACLEAN: Everybody in my neighborhood and my family thought I was insane and I was fighting a futile fight.

…That’s how it felt for Robert MacLean, a federal air marshal who, in 2003, told the public that the TSA canceled air marshal coverage on long-haul flights to cover budget shortfalls.


Continue Reading

The New York Times headline inspired retired Environmental Protection Agency staffer William Sanjour to write to the editor.

The headline read: “Whistle-Blower Did the Unexpected: She Returned to Work”

Why are you surprised that a whistle-blower went back to work?” he wrote in a letter posted Wednesday. “I was a whistle-blower at the Environmental Protection Agency and went back to work for 20 years and continued to blow the whistle, as did several of my whistle-blowing colleagues. That’s the law.”

The law he refers to is the Whistleblower Protection Act and Sanjour relied on it as a long-time critic of his own agency.

The Times story he refers to was about Tricia Newbold, a White House security office staffer. This weekend, she told Congressional investigators that senior White House officials overruled security staff and granted clearances to 25 employees.    
Continue Reading

Congress is once again calling on whistleblowers for help investigating a federal agency, this time the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Boeing 737 Max airplane tails
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Citing safety issues emerging after two crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX airplane, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Friday put out a call for FAA whistleblowers. They were directed to a new whistleblower webpage set up to collect information.

The move marks the second time in about a month that a member of Congress has called on whistleblowers to come forward. In February, Rep. Maxine Waters  issued an open letter to potential whistleblowers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The California Democrat asked agency employees who witness waste, fraud, abuse to contact her office.

Anyone thinking about becoming a whistleblower should speak to a whistleblower attorney first, said John Kostyack, director of the National Whistleblower Center

“Given the complex set of laws and procedures governing whistleblowing, and given the risk of retaliation for speaking out, whistleblowers should get assistance with protecting confidentiality and anonymity and potentially receiving financial rewards for assisting law enforcement with addressing wrongdoing and recovering civil and criminal penalties,” Kostyack said.


Continue Reading

The Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD IG) should coordinate with the military services to do a better job of protecting whistleblower confidentiality and addressing delays in handling cases, according to a new report.

The Government Accountability Office report found the IG offices have made progress since past reviews, but needs to do more to protect confidentiality. The review found that employees without “the need to know” have had access to sensitive whistleblower information.

While the timeliness of handling cases has improved in some areas, delays persist in others, according to the report.  For example, the average number of days to complete military and contractor reprisal investigations increased between 2017 and 2018 from 394 days to 541 days.

The DOD IG completed closed 73 investigations in 2018, including 13 senior official misconduct cases and 60 military, contractor, and civilian reprisal cases. However, about 85 percent of all investigations “did not meet the timeliness goals.”


Continue Reading

For International Women’s Day, a few whistleblowers.

From the NWC:

Dr. Tommie (“Toni”) G. Savage

Savage had a distinguished 20 year career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’, until she blew the whistle on the  fraud she discovered.

Jane Turner

Turner successful fought her removal and won a historic victory for all FBI whistleblowers before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.  She challenged her retaliation in federal court, and won a unanimous jury verdict in her favor, obtaining the largest compensatory damage award permitted under the law for federal employees.  Jane also exposed criminal theft of property at the 9/11 crime scene by a handful of FBI agents.  She was harshly retaliated against for reporting these violations to the DOJ Inspector General.  After a ten-year battle, she prevailed, becoming only one of a small handful of FBI agents to win her cases under the FBI whistleblower Protection Act.


Continue Reading

All three position on the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) are now empty with the expiration of the only member’s appointment. In February, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved two of President Trump’s MSPB nominees, but the full Senate has not considered them yet.

A letter from groups representing federal workers, as well as whistleblower and taxpayer advocates, raised concerns about the future of the board.

The MSPB is a three-person board which hears appeals of lower level personnel decisions. The Board hears whistleblower cases and is the backstop for maintaining a non-partisan, professional civil service as the sole enforcement body on many cases. It has not had a quorum since just before President Trump took office. The MSPB needs a quorum of two to act. The term of the single sitting member, Mark A. Robbins, ended on February 28.

A Washington Post column about unfilled political position mentions the MSPB.

The MSPB has a vital mission, namely, to oversee federal hiring, employee management and firing, as well as to provide protection against whistleblower retaliation in government. Perhaps the most invisible force at work at the MSPB is upholding the constitutional legal principles of due process and checks and balances that apply across all three branches of government. That makes the work of the MSPB crucial to making democracy work across the U.S. government. Davidson. 
Continue Reading