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Project on Government Oversight

Intel Bill Passage is Breakthrough for Whistleblower Protections

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June 25, 2014

Statement of Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project On Government Oversight

Congress is finally sending protections for national security and intelligence community whistleblowers to President Obama for his signature. While the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, which the House passed Tuesday, is not everything we sought, it goes a long way to putting into statute President Obama’s policies. This is a breakthrough for whistleblowers and accountability—a real anti-leaks measure.

I’d especially like to thank two members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and their staff who championed these protections: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

Too often, federal workers who witness wrongdoing don’t speak up out of fear of risking their reputations, losing their jobs, or worse. This legislation will encourage them to speak up about wrongdoing and help us to root out government corruption in the most secretive and unaccountable parts of government.

However, this legislation does not protect intelligence community contractors, leaving them without statutory protections for using legal channels to disclose wrongdoing. So there is more work to be done.

After the Senate passed the bill, we noted in a joint statement with the Make It Safe Coalition that the bill provides:  

  • Protection for intelligence community government workers against retaliation banned by the Whistleblower Protection Act. Disclosures by whistleblowers would be protected when made within their agencies, to the Office of Inspector General, or to the select congressional intelligence committees.
  • Extension of free speech rights to workers holding security clearances. Whistleblowing now will be accepted as an affirmative defense in legal proceedings involving these workers, although agencies that normally are defendants will still control initial hearings, and legal burdens of proof are modified for national security concerns.
  • Equal protection for those exercising personnel rights or providing testimony.
  • Rights to appeal to an administrative board selected by the Director of National Intelligence.
  • Appeal board authority to rule do novo that an agency action is illegal whistleblower retaliation, with authority to order continued employment, and payment of up to $300,000 in compensatory damages (attorneys’ fees are available under the Equal Access to Justice Act).
  • Preservation of all existing rights, including limited whistleblower protection already available for FBI employees.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.