January 15, 2021

Government Accountability Project Files Whistleblower Complaint Regarding the Retaliatory Actions Taken Against VOA White House Correspondent for Questioning  Secretary of State Pompeo During His Visit to VOA Headquarters

WASHINGTON—Today, Government Accountability Project notified Voice of America (VOA) that the actions taken against VOA Senior White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara expose its leadership to legal risk for breaking the federal laws protecting whistleblowers. The notice was provided in a letter to VOA Deputy Director Elizabeth L. Robbins from Government Accountability Project, which was also filed with the U.S. Congress and the federal agencies assisting whistleblowers, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the State Department Office of Inspector General.

On January 11, 2021, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to VOA headquarters to give a live address to VOA staff and answer questions posed by VOA Director Robert Reilly. Outside media was excluded. Neither Secretary Pompeo’s speech nor the questions posed addressed the most pressing topic of public concern: the January 6, 2021 occupation of the Capitol amidst the certification of the election of the president of the United States by supporters of President Trump. The secretary, fourth in the line of succession, made no public comments on the issue prior to the visit.

The only journalists in attendance were VOA employees, among them Ms. Widakuswara. As the secretary was leaving the VOA building, after the event concluded, she asked him questions on the January 6 Capitol occupation that he had not yet addressed in public. He ignored them. Immediately after the secretary departed, Mr. Reilly berated Ms. Widakuswara for asking her questions.

Retaliation against Ms. Widakuswara began hours later. First, she was immediately removed from her White House beat, and within three days had been “reassigned” to different VOA offices twice. Second, VOA Deputy Director Robbins informed Ms. Widakuswara yesterday, January 14, that she is now the subject of an administrative investigation of unspecified duration and unspecified topics. Government Accountability Project’s letter to Ms. Robbins notifies VOA that the reassignments and investigation are prohibited personnel practices under the federal laws protecting whistleblowers and that Ms. Robbins faces legal risk for her actions.

Concerning the investigation, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel David Seide wrote:

“[I]t is obvious that this investigation is retaliatory and potentially illegal…The applicable federal statute, 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8), prohibits supervisory employees like Ms. Robbins from taking personnel actions against employees like Ms. Widakuswara who are whistleblowers.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Phone: 202.926.3304

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.