New Recourse for Those Retaliating Against Whistleblowers: Criminal Investigations

Friday, August 01, 2014
(film by Robert Greenwald)

The Obama administration has ratcheted up its campaign against government whistleblowers by launching criminal investigations to punish those who speak out about wrongdoings.


Numerous federal agencies have embraced this tactic since Congress adopted the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (pdf) two years ago, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to the Government Accountability Project (GAP), an independent watchdog group.


Criminal cases have replaced more traditional forms of retaliation targeting whistleblowers, like harassment and terminations.


“What formerly were rare exceptions are now the rule-- instead of firing someone, you force them out of government through criminal investigations or actual prosecutions that affect their prospects for future federal employment,” Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director, told a congressional committee. “It’s a dangerous, scary trend that’s likely to get worse because it’s an attractive option.”


Agency heads have determined that criminal investigations are a faster way to get back at employees, since federal rules can make firings a lengthy process that can potentially last years.


“All a criminal investigation takes is one bully to give the suspect the third degree. It doesn’t risk anything -- the manager decides when the harassment ends, and sometimes they then open up a new probe. The threat of jail has a more chilling effect,” Devine added.


Tristan Leavitt, an investigative counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee and its whistleblower-friendly chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), says lawmakers may again take action in response to the Executive Branch’s behavior and expand protections under the 2012 law. The change would expand the authority of the Office of Special Counsel to award back wages and legal fees to whistleblowers whose claims are verified.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

The 'Dangerous, Scary Trend' in Retaliation Against Whistleblowers: Criminal Probes (by Charles Clark, Government Executive)

Ban the Criminalization of Whistleblowers! (Government Accountability Project)

'Fired' NYT Editor Blasts Obama Administration for Criminal Prosecution of Journalists, Whistleblowers (by Barbara Boland, CNS News)

Obama Whistleblower Program Requires Whistleblowers to Register to be Protected (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama Threat to Whistleblower Protections Triggers Alarm in Congress (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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