November 26, 2019

Andrew Harman

Communications Director

Government Accountability Project

[email protected]

USCIS Union and Government Accountability Project Respond to USCIS Management’s Attempts to Intimidate Whistleblowers

Recent publicly reported actions by USCIS management effectively and illegally stifle guaranteed whistleblower rights, say union, whistleblower protection organization

WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 119 and the Government Accountability Project today sent a letter to Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Ken Cuccinelli, and Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Mark Koumans, expressing grave concern about recent publicly-reported actions by USCIS management that effectively and illegally stifle guaranteed whistleblower rights.

On November 21, Koumans sent a communication to all USCIS employees stating that they would suffer increasingly severe discipline – including termination of employment – for the unauthorized disclosure, or “leaking” of non-public information. The employee communication did not include legally required language that informs employees of their rights to blow the whistle on misconduct.

“In context, it’s clear that USCIS management is trying to stop employees from blowing the whistle and speaking to Congress about serious misconduct and abuses at USCIS,” said Danielle Spooner, president of AFGE Council 119. “In fact, Acting Director Koumans issued the latest guidance just days after current and former USCIS employees publicly blew the whistle on significant misconduct concerning the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), making clear that his intention was to silence employees – not protect sensitive information.”

Likewise, Acting Director Cuccinelli recently stated on television that 27 USCIS employee “leakers” were disciplined within 100 days of his appointment as then-acting USCIS Director in June. However, the statements and actions of Mr. Koumans, Mr. Cuccinelli, and USCIS management ignore the fact that reports in the media regarding misconduct and abuses at USCIS aren’t coming from so-called “leakers,” but from protected whistleblowers.

“Federal employees have a right to disclose unclassified evidence of fraud, waste and abuse. Human rights violations are not classified national security secrets,” said Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project. “The Whistleblower Protection Act bans gags like the one from USCIS in three spots. It has been illegal in every appropriations law since FY 1988 to spend money implementing or enforcing gags that don’t explicitly preserve whistleblower rights. It is time for USCIS to replace the rule of cover-up with the rule of law.”

AFGE Council 119 and Government Accountability Project are demanding that USCIS and DHS issue a corrective communication to USCIS employees and reverse any discipline handed out to employees under these or similarly illegal directives.


AFGE Council 119 is the exclusive representative of 13,500 unionized employees of the U.S.  Citizenship and Immigration services. They are affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers.

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.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.