A recent White House directive on national security whistleblowers has sparked a major dialog in the whistleblower community. You can read the National Whistleblowers Center’s press release on the directive here.

Below is a full-text analysis from the Whistleblower Support Fund’s Linda Lewis (originally published here).

On Wednesday, President Obama signed a new Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-19) entitled, “Protecting Whistleblowers with Access to Classified Information.”

The presidential policy directive aims to ensure intelligence and national security employees are able to legally report agency wrongdoing and be protected from retaliation for doing so. (Federal News Radio).

When I first heard about the directive, I was hopeful that whistleblowers with security clearances might finally get needed protections. But, as I pored over the directive’s details, I became disappointed. I am not a lawyer, so perhaps I missed something of potential benefit. I am quite familiar, though, with the federal bureaucracy’s past responses to whistleblowers with security clearances.


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AFT Acting Director videoJohn Solomon, writing in the Washington Guardian, is reporting today that B. Todd Jones, the Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), released a video last week to all employees. In the video, Jones warns that there would be “consequences” for any employees who report wrongdoing outside their chain of command. Jones was a federal prosecutor when Attorney General Eric Holder asked him to lead the embattled agency after the Fast and Furious scandal. He is supposed to improve morale and instill a new culture in the aftermath of that scandal. Jones’ precise words are:

Choices and consequences means simply that if you make poor choices, that if you don’t abide by the rules, that if you don’t respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences.

Sen. Charles Grassley told Sinclair Broadcast that this video, “ought to be a wake up signal for everybody in Congress who wants to do their job of constitutional oversight. *** It is outrageous that a leader of a major organization of any department, particularly law enforcement, would have the temerity to make those sort of comments."

“This video will cause a chilling effect,” said Stephen M. Kohn, the Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center. “There are many cases that say whistleblowers can ignore the chain of command. In fact, under the Whistleblower Protection Act [WPA], you may lose protection if you only report to your first line supervisor, and going outside chain is a way to get protection,” Kohn told Solomon. “Also, the WPA says that ‘any disclosure’ is protected, not just disclosures made in the ‘appropriate way.’" Kohn is referring to the problemmatic decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, Willis v. Department of Agriculture, 141 F.3d 1139, 1144 (Fed. Cir. 1998) which held that a disclosure made as part of an employee’s normal job duties is not protected. However, disclosures to outside agencies or members of Congress avoid this exception to WPA coverage.  See Whitmore v. Dep’t of Labor, 680 F.3d 1353, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2012).

Solomon notes that the video is an apparent swipe at "Arizona agents who went outside the agency in 2011 and reported concerns to Congress about the bungled Fast and Furious gun probe that let semiautomatic weapons flow to Mexican drug gangs." Regardless of how one feels about the congressional response to Fast and Furious, we can hopefully all agree that the Arizona agents served the public interest by raising their concerns.  Well, maybe all of us except Mr. Jones.


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