Really Clear Policy: Sharyl Attkinsson: Pass Federal Enhanced Whistleblower Protection Act
This article features the Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, Tom Devine, and was originally published here.
“Full Measure” host Sharyl Attkisson speaks with Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project about the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act:
SHARYL ATTKISON: Last week we brought you an interview with FBI whistleblower Stephen Friend. He claims things are so broken at high levels within the nation’s top law enforcement agency that he had to speak out. He stalled and may have effectively ended his FBI career. Whistleblowers and their efforts to expose industry or government wrongdoing, expose waste and fraud, help change the world in countless ways. But, behind the headlines, the fate of the whistleblower is too often doomed to failure. Now there are new efforts in Congress to help.
John Dodson, a serving federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is one of the most prominent whistleblowers of our time.
He ran a story with me for CBS News in 2011 exposing the Obama administration’s covert strategy to allow the sale of thousands of US weapons to Mexican drug cartels, which the government has denied. One of the operations was called “Fast and Furious”. Here is an excerpt from my 2011 report:
(2011 Report) A Senior Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Officer assigned to this Phoenix office since 2010, Dodson’s job is to stop the smuggling of guns across the border. Instead, he says he was ordered to sit and watch it happen. Now he’s risking his job to go public.
JOHN DODSON: I’ve got boots on the court here in Phoenix, and I’m telling you, we’ve been doing it every day since I’ve been here. I am here. Tell me I didn’t do the things I did. Tell me you didn’t order me to do the things I did. Tell me that didn’t happen. Now you’ve got a name on it, and you’ve got a face to put on it. Someone now, tell me that didn’t happen.
SHARYL ATTKISON: It was March 2011. And, as I reported at the time, many “Fast and Furious” weapons were used to murder people, including Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010.
After Dodson went public, his own agency called him a liar. Even when the Justice Department admitted it was all true, instead of thanking Dodson, officials subjected him to a near-constant threat of retaliation.
A new bill called the Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act aims to make life a little easier for federal whistleblowers like Dodson.
This would provide stronger protection against retaliation, better protect them if they run for Congress, help keep their identities private, and cover some federal employees currently left behind.
Thousands of whistleblowers exposed billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as dangerous wrongdoings that cost lives.
Yet Tom Devine says their lives are often ruined. He is part of the Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group that supports and defends whistleblowers.
Sharyl: People may mistakenly believe that there are many protections for whistleblowers. What is the reality ?
Tom Devine: Well, there are a lot of laws that say they protect whistleblowers. The reality is that the laws aren’t consistent, so they’re a bit chaotic. And the laws are neither credible nor reliable. Ninety-six percent of federal employees who rely on their whistleblower protection rights lose their records.
In one ongoing case, at least a dozen FBI employees have denounced members of Congress over political bias and worse. They allege that FBI number two in the Washington field office, Timothy Thibault, covered up for President Biden’s son, Hunter, and used information from Trump’s political enemies to investigate him. Thibault has since left the FBI. His lawyers have denied the charges.
Amid the allegations, Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a controversial internal memo, outlining the terms under which Justice Department and FBI employees can speak to Congress.
Senator Chuck Grassley criticized the memo for failing to note that “all U.S. government employees have the right to petition Congress or provide information to Congress.”
Devine says another bill would better protect FBI employees who have “separate but equal” whistleblower protection.
Sharyl: When you talk about a “separate but equal” system for FBI whistleblowers, what are they currently not allowed to do?
Tom Devine: Well, they don’t have any freedom of public expression, for example. And their day in court takes place in front of attorneys from the Justice Department’s Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management. It’s like saying, “You’re going to seek justice for a lawyer on the other side. It’s a bad joke. Basically, the FBI has kind of thumbed its nose at accountability, and it’s time to make it happen.
Sharyl: Why would a federal whistleblower show up now, with the laws in place, as you say, but not really in practice to protect them?
Tom Devine: The main reason is probably that they have to live with themselves. I’ve had a number of whistleblowers say to me, “Tom, I’m going to shave the rest of my life, and I need to be able to look in the mirror. It would be like a cancer eating away at their soul if something went wrong, and they could have done something about it.
If the whistleblower bills don’t pass Congress before the end of the current session, advocates must start all over again next year.