The Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) investigative work was on full display at Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing for Central Intelligence Agency Inspector General (CIA IG) nominee Christopher Sharpley, who currently occupies that position in an acting capacity.
On Monday, POGO published an article revealing an unreported government evaluation finding systemic problems with how whistleblowers are handled within the Intelligence Community (IC), as well as the fact that Sharpley is named in at least three open whistleblower retaliation cases. That article formed the basis for lines of questioning from three different Senators during the hearing.
The evaluation POGO uncovered, written by the IC IG, was highly critical of how whistleblowers have been treated, stating that, “A complainant alleging reprisal for making a protected disclosure has a minimal chance to have a complaint processed and adjudicated in a timely and complete manner….” In a response to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sharpley challenged the validity of the IC IG’s evaluation as it might apply to the CIA, stating that “We handle all concerns… under the quality standards that are put out from the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. …I don’t know where that’s coming from….” However, a December 2016 lawsuit alleging that the CIA IG didn’t respond to a whistleblower retaliation complaint for two years casts doubt on Sharpley’s assertion that the CIA stands apart from the problems found in the rest of the intelligence community.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told POGO, “We can’t expect better government if we silence those who are seeking to fix it. Long delays at the CIA OIG underscore serious weaknesses in the system, and raise concerns over accountability at the CIA.”
Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) and Senators Feinstein and Kamala Harris (D-CA) all asked questions about Sharpley’s treatment of whistleblowers. Feinstein and Harris mentioned POGO by name, and Feinstein read lengthy passages of POGO’s article during the hearing and entered POGO’s article into the Congressional Record. Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said the Committee will request the newly revealed evaluation from the IC IG.
When asked whether he ever engaged in retaliation, Sharpley said he had not. When asked by Feinstein about the cases POGO mentions, he responded by saying “I am unaware of any open investigations on me or the details of any complaints about me.”
POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian has urged the Senate to delay his confirmation vote until the cases involving him are fully investigated and resolved without finding Sharpley at fault. Chairman Burr stated that he intended to schedule the committee vote for early next week.
Near the end of the hearing, Senator Harris said that CIA employees should be able to go to the IG with complete confidence that they will be taken seriously, that their confidentiality will be respected, and that they won’t be retaliated against by the office designed to protect them. That trust is needed throughout the federal government, but is especially important in the context of the CIA, where there are fewer avenues for whistleblowing and oversight. It is necessary that the next CIA IG have the trust and confidence of the employees of the CIA. Without proper resolution, doubt about the degree Sharpley’s involvement in these cases could seriously undermine potential whistleblowers’ confidence in the system.