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Holding the Government Accountable

FBI Recognizes Whistleblowers’ Role; Congress Seeks to Improve Protections

In early 2015, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report highlighted the fact that whistleblowers at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are not protected when they make disclosures to their direct supervisors—unlike every other federal whistleblower. That problem persists today.

Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey spoke at a National Whistleblower Appreciation Day event. His address focused on the need for all agencies, including the FBI, to recognize that they can always do a better job hearing what whistleblowers have to say. This includes providing training on the “laws, regulations and rules with a structure designed to encourage whistleblowers to raise their hands.”

Comey’s sentiments are a start, but one of the most pressing changes the FBI needs to make regarding whistleblowers is increasing the audience where they can go to voice their concerns.

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would address this deficiency. That legislation, the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2016, would also extend whistleblower protection to applicants for employment at the FBI. This bill largely mirrors protections afforded to other federal employees through the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) introduced companion legislation in the House last month.

If successful, this bipartisan and bicameral effort to strengthen FBI whistleblower protections would allow Director Comey to improve the culture of whistleblowing within the agency in a concrete way.