The Federal Bureau of Investigation is under pressure to fix it’s broken whistleblower process. In February 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that whistleblower protections at the FBI are weaker than at any other agency. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing in March and whistleblower advocacy groups are calling for change.
The GAO Report found that the Department of Justice’s FBI whistleblower process leaves FBI whistleblowers without protection from retaliation, and creates a chilling effect. The GAO also found that it could take over 10 years for a simple case to be completed through the FBI process.
FBI employee Robert Kobus is one such whistleblower. In October 2005 Mr. Kobus reported budget and time card fraud in his office. It was a simple case, and fully documented. The retaliation he faced was swift – the FBI stripped him of his duties and literally isolated him by assigning him to work as the only person on a vacant floor amongst 130 empty desks.
“You know, sitting on a deserted floor, you are basically a pariah,” Kobus told NPR’s Morning Addition, in an interview that aired April 15, 2015. “My true friends stayed with me — the one, two that I had. But everybody else, they would avoid me like the plague.”
The DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG), after a thorough investigation, found that the FBI retaliated against Mr. Kobus and ordered corrective action. It should have ended there and Mr. Kobus should have been restored to his former duties no later than 2007. Instead it took over nine more years for his to go through the FBI whistleblower process for him to be vindicated.
National Whistleblower Center General Counsel David Colapinto, one of the attorneys for Kobus, told NPR, “The reason this gets dragged out is for the DOJ and the FBI to send a message to other employees. If you blow the whistle, this is what’s going to happen to you.”
During the March Senate hearing Senators Chuck Grassely (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed outrage by the amount of retaliation FBI whistleblowers face along with the failure of the FBI whistleblower program to appropriately handle such cases.
“Whistleblowers should not have to fear retaliation for speaking up, and they should not have to wait a decade for relief,” said Sen. Grassley.
“If you have an employee who knows about wrongdoing I think they have to have real avenues where they can come forward and tell about it and not be punished for actually letting taxpayers and everyone else know what’s going on . . . They have to be protected from retaliation,” said Sen. Leahy
Grassley, the co-founder of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, and other Senators on the Judiciary Committee are exploring how to fix the broken FBI whistleblower process and to make it easier for FBI employees to call out bad behavior and misuse of funds.
Kobus, who still works at the FBI, wants to make sure the process is fixed so no one else has to experience the type of retaliation he faced.