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Pentagon IG Describes ‘Disturbing Trend’ of Government Failing to Protect Whistleblowers


Not long after President Donald Trump’s sustained attack on the whistleblower who triggered his impeachment, an inspector general is reporting that federal employees who expose wrongdoing and fraud within the government are being increasingly subjected to retaliation by their superiors leading to a dramatic decrease in whistleblower reporting and waste exposure.

According to Acting Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Defense (DOD) Glenn Fine, Pentagon officials have failed to punish those responsible for retaliating against whistleblowers, engendering an environment in which such reprisals are implicitly condoned.

“Recently, we’ve seen a disturbing trend of the DOD disagreeing with the results of our investigation or not taking disciplinary action in whistleblower reprisal cases without adequate or persuasive explanations,” Fine told the House Oversight and Reform Committee Tuesday, according to a report from Government Executive. “Failure to take action sends a message to agency managers that reprisal will be tolerated and also to potential whistleblowers [that they] will not be protected.”

Fine said that his office could only investigate allegations of whistleblower retaliation and make recommendations based on their findings, but explained that it was up to those in managerial positions at the Pentagon to discipline employees.

“We’re not judge and jury,” Fine said. “We ought to provide transparency on when this happens, and then people ought to be asked about this. Hearings are good. Questions are good.”

Elizabeth Hempowicz, the director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight, told the committee that the current system for protecting whistleblower was in dire need of reform.

“While inspectors general play an essential role in investigating whistleblower disclosures and retaliation, they are unable to enforce their recommendations for corrective action against the agency that retaliated against the whistleblower,” she said. “The last level of review in an intelligence community whistleblower’s case is a panel of three inspectors general from the intelligence community, referred to officially as an External Review Panel. However, those panels’ decisions are merely recommendations that the head of the whistleblower’s agency can disregard without consequence. Leaving the enforcement of whistleblower protection laws to the agencies responsible for retaliation renders those protections all but meaningless.”

Several other expert witnesses also testified, telling the panel that unlike the private sector, federal employees are barred from suing their employer for unlawful retaliation, making the government’s internal control mechanisms their only protection against professional retribution

“Federal civil servants are the only major sector of the workforce that don’t have the right to bring whistleblower cases to U.S. district court and seek a jury trial,” founder and general counsel at the National Whistleblower Center David Colapinto said. “By contrast, the legal protections for whistleblowers in private industry, publicly traded companies, federal contractors and even in state and local government exceed the whistleblower rights and remedies currently available to federal employees.”

According to the experts, the most critical step in preventing whistleblower retaliation is protecting the anonymity of those willing to report wrongdoing.

“All too frequently whistleblowers have faced retaliation for their actions,” Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow with the R Street Institute told the subcommittee, according to the Federal News Network. “If we wish them to have a positive incentive for them to come forward, and I think we all agree that we do, then it is essential to provide whistleblowers with the protection of anonymity when they wish. All people respond to incentives, and any wise system of law will recognize that.”

[image via STAFF/AFP/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.