Holding the Government Accountable

POGO Critical of Pentagon Watchdog’s Handling of Whistleblowers

Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security today that the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General (DoD OIG) is inadequately protecting whistleblowers who come forward to report misconduct at the Pentagon.

“Whistleblowers who report concerns that affect our national security must be lauded, not shunned or, worse, harmed. And the law must protect them,” Smithberger said in her testimony.

In March, POGO sent a letter to DoD Principal Deputy Inspector General Glenn Fine raising concerns about military reprisal investigations, including concerns that IG managers had back-filled case files to try to mislead Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators.

Two months later, Congress echoed POGO’s concerns in a bipartisan letter from lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

“The perceived and real failures of the DoD IG to act as a check on violations of law should be of grave concern. It is POGO’s hope that Congress and the DoD IG will ensure that whistleblowers can successfully step forward to expose and stop wrongdoing, and be confident that they will not suffer retaliation as a result,” said Smithberger.

Smithberger called for the DoD IG to begin restoring the integrity of the office by taking these immediate actions:

  • Investigate and consider for removal any senior officials found to have illegally destroyed evidence in whistleblower or other case files, improperly instructed employees to back-fill cases, or otherwise interfered with the independence and integrity of investigations;
  • Develop and follow uniform procedures for conducting civilian, intelligence, contractor, and military whistleblower reprisal investigations, including training for soliciting pertinent evidence;
  • Request a GAO or outside IG audit of the DoD IG’s reprisal investigations to ensure that investigators’ decisions to dismiss, investigate, and substantiate reprisal are proper and based on the legal requirements for examining any evidence presented;
  • Make sure investigators and reviewers are maintaining case files in real time to make sure its data is reliable on an ongoing basis;
  • Whenever possible, inform complainants whether their cases are still active, and consistently follow the law to notify complainants whose cases go beyond 180 days why the deadline will not be met and accurately report the estimated completed date in a timely manner;
  • Report to Congress about the timeliness of investigations;
  • Consistently include in its semiannual reports instances when DoD or its components declined to take the DoD OIG’s recommended actions;
  • As practicable, make sure investigators do not dismiss reprisal cases without interviewing complainants;
  • Ensure it does not refer cases back to the offices named by whistleblowers without their consent.

Smithberger testified on a panel alongside Principal Deputy IG Fine and GAO’s Lori Atkinson.