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The Price for Proper Channel Whistleblowing

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In a press conference earlier this month, President Obama insisted that National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden could have raised his concerns through proper, and protected, channels, but an article in The Washington Post tells the story of how even internal whistleblowing can be dangerous.

In 2008, Gina Gray, an Army civilian employee, raised concerns about the way Arlington National Cemetery was handling the remains of American soldiers and their graves. She refused to sign off an internal report and brought her concerns to the commanding general in charge. Gray’s information led to a series of scandals and to her being fired. She then passed her information to three Congressional offices, but the management of Arlington National Cemetery didn’t change until Gray went to the press and the inspector general.

Though Gray has been officially labeled a whistleblower by the Pentagon’s inspector general, she has not been compensated for her firing. She has had to drop her case seeking compensation because she remains unemployed and can’t afford her legal bills, according to the Post.

Post reporter Dana Milbank said Gray’s case shows that the idea that Snowden should have reported his concerns internally, and that Obama’ recent policy directive would have protected him, is “a load of nonsense.”

From the article:

Gray’s case shows that Snowden was correct about one thing: Trying to pursue the proper internal channels doesn’t work.

If the Obama administration wants whistleblowers to take the “proper” route, it needs to protect them when they do.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz argued that Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 19 “provided unprecedented and widely praised protection to whistleblowers in the intelligence agencies,” according to a Government Executive article. But while the directive does not specifically exclude protections for intelligence contractors like Snowden, it also doesn’t mention contractors. So, it’s unclear whether intelligence agencies will proactively include contractors in their regulations or rules, which are not expected to be finalized until October.

But don’t count on it. Especially considering the Pentagon’s statement to Government Executive:

A spokeswoman for the Pentagon inspector general’s office, responding to a query, pointed out that section 10 us the U.S. code has long mentioned that contractor employees enjoy “protection for disclosure of certain information.” But the version signed by President Obama in January, which took effect on July 1, “specifically exempts intelligence community contractors, subcontractors, and grantees” from the protections, she noted.

POGO believes the President will need to order specific protections for intelligence and national security contractors, subcontractors, and grantees—unless Congress acts first.

POGO has strongly supported whistleblower protections for all federal contractor employees because they are on the front line of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending and are therefore in the best place to report fraud, waste and abuse. Snowden should remind everyone that the stakes are high for excluding intelligence and national security contractors from whistleblower protections.

By: Andre Francisco
Online Producer, POGO

andre francisco Andre Francisco is the Online Producer for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Authors: Andre Francisco

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