October 2, 2014

FBI moves to fire 11 whistleblowers, key senator fears retaliation

Eleven whistleblowers in the FBI say the bureau is targeting them for termination in retaliation for their revelations about FBI wrongdoing, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary announced Wednesday.

The whistleblowers, who have spoken out about various problems and wrongdoing at the law enforcement agency, said they recently have been served with Loss of Effectiveness orders, warning that their performance is suffering and that they could soon be fired.

“These whistleblowers never have the opportunity to make their case,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican. “It’s stereotypical treatment of whistleblowers for the executive branch.”

The letters sent to the employees mark the first major case showing how new FBI Director James B. Comey may react to internal whistleblowers.

Mr. Grassley noted that the Loss of Effectiveness orders don’t allow employees an appeal and bypass the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which usually deals with employee matters.

“If these allegations are true, the FBI’s treatment of whistleblowers stands in stark contrast with how it treats agents who have been found by [internal investigators] to have committed actual, disciplinable offenses,” Mr. Grassley said in a September letter to the FBI director.

The senator cited the case of an FBI agent who was having a relationship with a foreign citizen and had divulged sensitive information. The agent was never sent a Loss of Effectiveness (LOE) letter, and the agent’s case was handled through the Office of Professional Responsibility, he said.

“There is serious cause for concern that the FBI’s use of LOEs may be similarly arbitrary and capricious in other cases as well as a tool of whistleblower retaliation,” Mr. Grassley wrote.

Officials at the FBI could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

But in a September response to Mr. Grassley’s letter, the bureau said that LOE letters are a means to “maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of our workforce.”

“The FBI intends the process to be fair and to improve the efficiency of the workforce,” the bureau said. “A LOE transfer does not result in a loss in pay or a demotion in rank.”

“All FBI employees are subject to being moved from a particular assignment for the betterment of the organization and to promote the leadership qualities needed for the FBI to be effective,” the bureau letter said.

The whistleblowers said the FBI Office of Integrity and Compliance is concerned about the issue of retaliation and is working on drafting changes to the agency’s policies on the treatment of whistleblowers.

Mr. Grassley pointed to the case of agent Richard Kiper, who was working as the unit chief of the Investigative Training Unit in the FBI Training Division. But Mr. Kiper claims FBI leaders gave him a Loss of Effectiveness letter in July 2013 in retaliation after he provided information on problems in the training curriculum and business process. Based on the Loss of Effectiveness order, Mr. Kiper was demoted.

The FBI has taken retaliatory action against whistleblowers in the past. In 2007 former agent Jane Turner won a court case against the agency after she was forced out due to retaliation. FBI officials said she had tarnished the agency’s reputation for reporting about the potential theft of property from ground zero in New York City.

Mr. Grassley said that several of the whistleblowers are women who have reported sexist treatment at the FBI. He asked the Justice Department’s Inspector General to investigate, stating that the women “allege that they suffered gender discrimination and that they were retaliated against when they tried to report these abuses.”

The senator noted the whistleblowers said there are others in the bureau who would come forward to report wrongdoing but fear retaliation.


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