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Bipartisan Letter Questions Watchdog’s Whistleblower Program

A bipartisan group of Members of Congress recently wrote to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine raising significant concerns about his office’s ability to fulfill its mission to whistleblowers. The bipartisan letter represents a positive step forward in addressing deficiencies in this area.

According to its mission statement, the DoD Office of the Inspector General (OIG) exists to “promote accountability, integrity and efficiency.” But the Congressional letter described significant delays in investigations, low substantiation rates, insufficient oversight of service Inspector General reprisal investigations, and allegations of misconduct and reprisal within the DoD OIG itself.

The Congressional letter, signed by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), drew heavily from a recent letter to Acting Inspector General Fine from the Project On Government Oversight, which criticized the OIG for grievances initially raised by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Besides the issues listed above, the GAO report found evidence of a flawed case management system in which case files may be incomplete or inaccurate. The POGO letter also questioned the integrity of OIG officials after the GAO report found that OIG investigation managers retroactively added information to incomplete case files the GAO planned to review. The Congressional and POGO letters urged Fine to consider reforms to the IG’s Administrative Investigations practices and personnel.

One specific source of Congressional concern not mentioned in the letter has been the DoD IG’s handling of claims that Rear Admiral Brian Losey retaliated against whistleblowers. Senator Grassley, one of the signatories to the Congressional letter, recently discussed Rear Admiral Losey’s illegal retaliation against suspected whistleblowers on the Senate Floor. After being reported for misusing taxpayer funds to purchase a personal plane ticket, Losey created an “enemies list” of the individuals he suspected may have reported him and told his staff he planned to “come after them.”

Despite the discovery of this information, Losey was still set to be promoted, possibly because the IG report about the matter was kept hidden from the public. Senator Grassley has suggested that DoD IG managers instructed investigators to alter the report’s finding from substantiated to unsubstantiated. “The investigators were also allegedly directed to change facts and evidence to fit the desired finding. In other words, key pieces of evidence had to be allegedly ‘removed’ to ensure that the evidence presented in the report was aligned with the specified conclusions,” said Grassley. “Deliberately falsifying information in an official report constitutes a potential violation of law. If the directed re-write of this report really happened and if it is allowed to stand, it could undermine the integrity of the investigative process.” The case of Rear Admiral Losey provides a startling example of the failure of current protective measures, as well as of the purported misconduct of DoD IG personnel.

The Congressional letter points out that past efforts to correct the system have yet to result in needed changes to the structure or management of DoD whistleblower protections. The letter goes on to say that attempts at reform have been obstructed by the DoD OIG’s reluctance to act on the GAO’s recommendations. It reads, “although DoD OIG concurred with key GAO recommendations related to congressional oversight, it had declined to implement them.” The letter also states that the DoD IG has ignored requests for regular reports to Congress on the status of investigations and continues to report only on an ad hoc basis, hindering the ability of Congress to determine in a timely manner whether there exist investigational deficiencies requiring correction.

While it is clear that numerous deficiencies remain within the DoD’s system for handling cases of whistleblower reprisal, the Congressional letter is a welcome indication that concern over the unlawful treatment of whistleblowers by the Pentagon is garnering increasing external attention that could help catalyze reform.