Yesterday, Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) office released a revealing report on the shortcomings of federal agency compliance with the codified “anti-gag” provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). That dimension of the law supersedes agency non-disclosure agreements, rules and policies that otherwise would cancel Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) rights. The law also puts the onus on agencies to inform employees of these rights.
Further, the anti-gag section provides employees with whistleblower protections when they disclose information that is labeled under pseudo-classifications such as Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU), Sensitive Security Information (SSI) or Sensitive Homeland Security Information (SHSI).
Under the WPEA, any violation of the “anti-gag” provision is a Prohibited Personnel Practice.
The report’s findings are consistent with and have shed light on longstanding agency-wide dismissal of the anti-gag protections. Using a “report card” system of evaluation for compliance, out of 15 cabinet departments, five received a “D” or “F” in the report, and nine received a “C”. Only the Department of Treasury received a “B” and documented its implementation of the WPEA anti-gag provision.
Education around this provision could make the difference between a government employee’s decision to turn a blind eye or report wrongdoing in the workplace. In an op-ed in The Hill, Senator Grassley reminds us of the timeless role that whistleblowers play in society:
Transparency and accountability are not partisan issues. It is in the public interest to let the sun shine on waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Whistleblowers protect the integrity of government. Let’s make sure that they receive the full protections and rights promised to them under the law. Unleashing whistleblowers to help weed out wrongdoing will make for the ultimate spring cleaning.
In a letter to Senator Grassley, trans-ideological members of the Make It Safe Coalition applauded his oversight efforts. His leadership, in partnership with GAP, led to the “anti-gag” appropriations rider from FY 1988 to FY 2013. In addition, the letter makes additional recommendations, including restoration of the pioneer appropriations rider:
Your office’s research should be an invaluable guide for agency-by-agency merit system certification. Further, we suggest that the study’s scope be expanded through a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of all agencies that may be spending taxpayer funds to implement or enforce gag orders. We also hope that your office can be effective in advocacy to restore the appropriations rider. For federal employees and contractors in the Intelligence Community, for now it would be the only legal right that exists when they challenge secrecy that betrays the public trust.
The letter is signed by GAP, Liberty Coalition, National Taxpayers Union, National Whistleblowers Center, Project On Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Center for Science and Democracy.
The full report can be found here.