President Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Oct. 6, 2011, in Washington. Intelligence agency whistle-blowers will receive first-ever protections from official reprisal under an Obama administration directive issued this week. (File photo / Getty Images)
Intelligence agency whistle-blowers will receive first-ever protections from official reprisal under an Obama administration directive issued this week.
The directive, which applies to security clearance holders throughout the government, bars agencies from firing or taking other punitive measures against workers who report waste, fraud or abuse.
By July, the CIA and other intelligence agencies must create an appeal route for employees who believe they have been subject to reprisal; those who don’t get satisfaction will then be able to ask the inspector general for the intelligence community to convene a three-member panel to review their cases, the directive says.
Similar steps will be in place for employees at other agencies who face the loss of their security clearances for blowing the whistle. Those found to have been mistreated will be eligible for back pay, attorney’s fees and compensatory damages.
“I think it makes clear that retaliation is illegal and won’t be tolerated,” said Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight. Up to now, she said, intelligence community workers have had no safeguards. Although security clearance holders were once able to appeal revocations to the Merit Systems Protection Board, that avenue was largely shut down by a 1988 Supreme Court decision.
The Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy organization, also praised the directive as “a significant breakthrough.” In a news release, however, the group’s legal director, Tom Devine, said it was no substitute for legislation. Although the House and Senate have approved versions of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, the House measure excludes intelligence community employees. The two chambers could seek agreement on a final bill in a lame-duck session scheduled to start Nov. 13.