The Proper Channels For Whistleblowing Still Mostly A Good Way For Messengers To Get Shot

from the snitches-get-unsustained-retaliation-complaints dept

Whistleblower protections offered by the federal government are great in theory. In practice, they're a mess. This administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. The proper channels for reporting concerns are designed to deter complaints. Those that do use the proper channels are frequently exposed by those handling the complaints, leading to retaliatory actions that built-in protections don't offer an adequate remedy for.

Perhaps the ultimate insult is that the proper channels lead directly to two committees that have -- for the most part -- staunchly defended agencies like the NSA against criticism and any legislative attempts to scale back domestic surveillance programs. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are the "proper channels," whose offered protections can only be seen as the hollowest of promises, especially after the House Intelligence Committee's lie-packed response to calls for Snowden's pardon.

What the federal government offers to whistleblowers is a damned if you do/don't proposition. Bypass the proper channels and brace yourself for prosecution. Stay within the defined lanes and expect nothing to change -- except maybe your security clearance, pay grade, or chances of advancement within the government.

Congress doesn’t have much legal power to protect intelligence community employees from such retaliation. The Pentagon’s inspector general website concedes Congress cannot “grant special statutory protection for intelligence community employees from reprisal for whistleblowing.”

In most cases of personal or professional retaliation, it ends up being the whistleblower’s problem, says Tom Devine, the legal director for the Government Accountability Project. “The problem is that whistleblowers making most complaints proceed at their own risk,” he said in an interview. “There are no independent due process protections for any intelligence community whistleblowers. And contractors don’t even have the right to an independent investigation unless there’s security clearance retaliation.”

The limited evidence that has surfaced about using the "proper" whistleblower channels suggests the protections granted by the government are mostly meaningless. The intelligence committees won't comment on the treatment of government employees who have approached them to blow the whistle. Government contractors working within the intelligence community are even more tight-lipped, suggesting even civilians are on their own when when attached to government programs or projects.

The few reports that have made it out into the open indicate it's almost impossible for a whistleblower to prove any actions taken against them post-whistleblowing are actually retaliatory. An Inspector General's investigation of a whistleblower's retaliation complaints determined that anything that had happened to the whistleblower could not be conclusively linked to the Defense Department employee's whistleblowing.

All that can be determined is that dozens of whistleblower complaints do make their way to the intelligence committees every year. But even this is based on the assertions of the House Intelligence Committee, which refused to provide any further details. The outcome of the whistleblowing remains under wraps and there are no publicly-released statistics that total the number of complaints, much less which percentage of complaints are found substantial and investigated further.

Government employees and contractors are just expected to trust the federal government which, given its response to whistleblowers over the past two decades, isn't going to nudge edge cases away from bypassing the laughable "protections" and proceeding directly to journalists willing to actually protect their sources.

Filed Under: ignored, proper channels, whistleblowing


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2016 @ 10:39am

    The FDA Isn't Coming Tomorrow

    At a multi-billion dollar company I raised concerns to senior management because I had reasons to believe that the clinical lab I was working at was changing data to make some of the products look like they were performing better than they were. There was a two month investigation and then they asked me to sign some paper saying that I encrypted the data I was working on using portable hard drives, which was true. We weren't using encryption on highly sensitive data when I started using it, and I was ordered by my manager not to message the security team about concerns. I desperately needed the job at the time, our network was not secure and I had nowhere near enough space to do my work on the network drives that weren't reliable anyway (files weren't always visible across computers for some reason), and we had almost no support from any technical group in the company, so I used Truecrypt for years and I signed, thinking that yes, I did the right thing, and now we can do things properly. Two weeks later they asked me to resign and told me not to challenge the "mutually agreed upon" termination because I committed what I didn't know was an illegal action, and then they told me to remember that I signed that paper.

    I'm not restricted by a non-disparagement clause so technically I can talk about them all I want as long as it's true, but I know that I can't come forward willingly or else nobody will ever hire me again or worse.

    I had many more concerns, some even related to product safety issues, but mostly about how:
    - a small pool of panelists were re-used with some on as many as fifty studies a year, but mostly on thirty or more using products with long-lasting effects.
    - the lab focused on speed and throughput over quality, with mistakes covered up, standards ignored or non-existent, and lab-staff using the motto 'garbage in, garbage out.'
    - no electronic data capture or audit-trail for most of the data.
    - very poor analysis algorithms (laughably called 'our versions of x').
    - data/images listed as having positive results that were not discernible upon inspection.

    Later on some of my co-workers told me that HR called them in and asked them if there was any reason to think that I was a vengeful person and other horrible things. I don't know what would have happened if they said anything other than what they did.

    In the end, I'm preparing my resume while my former manager who by the way disabled security by making thousands of people unrelated to our department system admins on a health information protected database and gave his administrator password out to everyone in our lab... is still there.

    Note that the subject line is a quote from one of my former VPs when I first brought this to her attention.

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