Today, the Government Accountability Project proclaims that the CIA’s public efforts to crackdown on leaks of classified information demonstrate the need for Congress to approve meaningful whistleblower protections for employees who decide to disclose classified evidence of government wrongdoing, misconduct and illegality.

GAP calls on Congressional leadership to allow up or down votes on two legislative proposals that would authorize whistleblowers with “direct and specific” evidence of classified government misconduct to disclose that information to Congress.

“The CIA has been vocal about its leak investigation because their efforts are designed to make employees think twice before coming forward to challenge agency conduct. This is exactly why stalled legislative proposals to strengthen whistleblower protections for federal employees must be passed,” commented GAP Legal Director Tom Devine.

Pending legislation in the House and Senate, H.R. 5112 and S. 494 respectively, would allow for legally-safe, classified whistleblowing disclosures to Congress. “This is the responsible alternative to the Catch-22 facing national security employees,” added Devine. “These employees currently have to decide between leaking information publicly at great risk to their career or submitting to a cover-up of government illegality.”

The House Rules Committee is deciding on Wednesday what amendments will be allowed for votes when the House debates the lobbying reform bill (H.R. 4975) on Thursday. H.R. 5112, the Executive Branch Reform Act of 2006, which includes landmark whistleblower rights reforms for intelligence agency employees, is one of the proposed amendments to the lobbying bill.

Intelligence Community Whistleblowers and the Need for Reform

The 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) has been an outright failure. The act outlines a convoluted process under which intelligence agency employees may bring matters of “urgent concern” to congressional intelligence committees, only after the director of the agency has been notified by the agency Inspector General (IG). The ICWPA provides no legal remedy for employees who suffer personnel reprisals for making disclosures to the IG or intelligence committees.

In contrast, H.R. 5112, the Executive Branch Reform Act of 2006, which was approved unanimously by Chairman Tom Davis’ (R-VA) Government Reform Committee on April 6, provides landmark whistleblower reforms for intelligence agency employees. The bill allows intelligence agency employees with “direct and specific” evidence of government waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality to go directly to any member of the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate, the House Government Reform Committee, the Senate Homeland Security Committee, or any congressional committee with jurisdiction over the identified problem. The bill gives these employees the right to challenge retaliatory personnel actions, including suspension or revocation of security clearances, in federal district court.

The Rest of the Federal Workforce

Under the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), federal employees may bring classified disclosures of government misconduct to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) or their agency’s inspector general. In April 2005, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) unanimously approved legislation, S. 494, which for the first time would explicitly authorize federal employees to disclose classified wrongdoing to authorized members of Congress. The legislation also overturns 11 years of hostile court rulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that have effectively gutted and rewritten the WPA. However, Senate Republican leadership has placed an indefinite “hold” on S. 494 and refuses to schedule an “up or down” vote on the legislation. GAP and its coalition partners are working with HSGAC staff to convince Senate leadership to schedule a Senate floor vote on the bill.