Is the Obama Administration Diluting Whistleblower Protections?

By Matthew Harwood

The Obama administration may be backing away from its campaign pledge to protect national security whistleblowers, according to administration e-mail and a Senate committee's draft legislation, reports The Washington Times.

The Times reports obtaining e-mail correspondence from the White House counsel's office from June and July. The e-mails contained draft language for the whistleblower bill that closely resembled draft legislation that passed out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs in late July.

The e-mails signal the White House is pushing a  compromise between two competing versions of whistleblower protection bills: the stronger House version and the weaker Senate version.

The Times explains:

Under current law, most federal whistleblowers who suffer retaliation can seek redress from an entity called the Merit Systems Protection Board. Those who work in security and intelligence agencies must seek redress within the agencies in which they work.

The House bill would scrap that system and provide all federal workers who have grievances access to the courts. The legislation is likely to be taken up after the August recess.

The Senate bill initially kept most of the current structure intact. After the White House revisions, it provided access to the courts for most federal workers but removed some existing protections from national security workers.

Besides losing possible access to the courts, according to the draft Senate version, national security whistleblowers would see their protections further eroded. Currently, national security whistleblowers can appeal to their agency's inspector general, long considered independent adjudicators, to review their cases. However, the new Senate version would instead make whistleblowers take their cases to their agency managers, according to the Times.

Senate Democratic aides told the Times that they did not intent to weaken whistleblower protections for national security workers and that the language produced was the product of negotiations between Senate Democrats and Republicans and the Obama administration. The aides said corrective measures will be taken when Congress reconvenes this fall.

Former federal air marshal and national security whistleblower Robert MacLean called the House version "a genuine protection bill." MacLean was fired from the Federal Air Marshal Service in 2006 when he told the media back in 2003 that federal air marshals would be cut from "high-risk" flights because of budgetary constraints.

MacLean awaits to see what bill comes out of Congress.

"I guess it will all come down to the final conference between the House and Senate leaders when they draft a final version," he told Security Management.

♦ Picture of whistleblower by Photochiel/Flickr


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