On July 28, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Ranking Member and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The act strengthens whistleblower protections for employees at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Currently, FBI whistleblowers are not offered the anti-retaliation protections given to most federal employees. The FBI handles all whistleblower retaliation cases internally, increasing the likelihood of unchecked retaliation which in turn suppresses whistleblowing within the agency.
The FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act allows FBI whistleblowers to appeal retaliation cases to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the quasi-judicial agency which oversees most other federal whistleblower cases. The Act also allows FBI whistleblower retaliation cases to proceed to the MSPB if the FBI has not issued a ruling within 180 days.
“With transparency comes accountability, and it’s clear both are sorely needed at the FBI,” said Grassley. “From my years of working with whistleblowers, I know the number one concern among those who decide to come forward is retaliation, which could destroy their careers. Our whistleblower protection enhancement bill takes a commonsense approach to fixing this problem, utilizing an effective system that’s already in place for other law enforcement agencies. I appreciate Chairman Durbin for joining me on this important effort.”
“Whistleblowers bravely step forward to report when agencies like the FBI are skirting accountability,” added Durbin. “But if we want to ensure that whistleblowers can come forward, we must shield them from retaliation. My legislation with Ranking Member Grassley, the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, will improve protections for those who report wrongdoing at the FBI and, in turn, increase transparency and accountability within our government.”
The FBI has a long history of retaliating against whistleblowers who have come forward to expose misconduct at the agency. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a scathing report “Whistleblower Protection: Additional Actions Needed to Improve DOJ’s Handling of FBI Retaliation Complaints.”
Partially in response to the GAO Report, Congress passed the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2016. This stripped-down reform bill expanded the list of appropriate officials who could receive protected disclosures.
The newly introduced FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act goes a step further by allowing whistleblowers to have their cases heard in front of the MSPB, a reform advocates were pushing for back in 2016. Relying on the MSPB comes with its own issues, however. Until March 1, 2022, the MPSB lacked a quorum for over five years. Thus, a massive backlog of thousands of cases has piled up before the Board, meaning that relief for retaliated-against whistleblowers can take many years. Whistleblower advocates continue to push for access to federal courts for all federal employee whistleblowers.
Grassley advocated for the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act during his keynote speech at National Whistleblower Day 2022. Grassley also called for reforms to the anti-money laundering and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) whistleblower programs.