Opinion: Congress Must Use its Powers Over Nominations and Budget to Stop the Termination of Inspector General Michael Atkinson

The National Whistleblower Center issued the below statement today:

The Statement of the National Whistleblower Center on the Termination of The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community

Washington, D.C. April 4, 2020. The National Whistleblower Center condemns President Trump’s decision to terminate the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Mr. Michael Atkinson. Under the Inspector General Act, the President is required to give Congress 30 days prior notice before implementing the termination of an Inspector General. This Congressional notification process was put into law to ensure that Inspector Generals are not subjected to retaliation for reporting whistleblower findings that are embarrassing to an administration.

The National Whistleblower Center is calling upon Congress to exercise its oversight responsibility and stop this arbitrary proposed termination.

Inspector General Atkinson followed the letter of the law when he processed the Intelligence Community whistleblower complaint that led to President Trump’s impeachment. He also followed the law when he honored his legal requirement to maintain the confidentiality of the whistleblower. He honored the entire Inspector General process when he ensured that a whistleblower’s right to be free from retaliation would be protected, undoubtedly realizing he was placing his job in jeopardy. Given the absence of any evidence that Inspector General Atkinson acted improperly, any termination would be baseless, retaliatory and a crushing blow to public trust.

The United States is currently facing a health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Recently, Congress enacted the largest-ever government infusion of cash into the economy. The potential for fraud is beyond question. At a time when cooperation between whistleblowers and the federal government is needed more than ever to make certain that federal funds reach those needs, terminating Inspector General Atkinson sends a chilling message to all whistleblowers and those in the federal government who support them.

Our concern over the chilling effect triggered by firing an honest and effective Inspector General is heightened by the recent removal of Captain Crozier from his command for reporting a COVID-19 outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The Inspector General Act authorizes the Inspector General for the Navy to investigate the removal of Captain Crozier. Will the Inspectors General for the Navy be chilled from fully investigating misconduct embarrassing to the White House?

Terminating an Inspector General who did his job effectively (despite political pressure) means honorable civil servants who follow the letter of the law to assist whistleblowers are at serious risk of losing employment. Congress must take aggressive action to protect whistleblowers and those in the federal government who make whistleblowing possible.

Congress must protect the Inspector General auditing and oversight process, a process that is an essential tool in ensuring government accountability.

Congress has 30 days to stops this termination. Historically, when the Executive Branch of government has overreached its authority or engaged in unacceptable actions, the Senate has placed “holds” on presidential nominations. The House has used its “power of the purse” to rein in executive abuses. If Congress is serious about oversight, it must take action to require all Inspector Generals to protect whistleblowers and prevent the Inspector General Act from becoming another worthless law.

Congress must use these powers to stop the termination of an honest and effective cop. The clock is ticking. The nation awaits action from Congress to stop the President’s retaliatory action. Words are not enough. 

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