A Justice Department policy regarding employee communications with Congress has raised concerns from a key advocate for whistleblowers that the effect will be to suppress legal disclosures of wrongdoing.
While the policy applies only within Justice, as the central law enforcement agency its policies on legal matters commonly spreads to other agencies. For example, a policy decision late in the Obama administration restricting the department’s compliance with IG investigations set a government-wide precedent that alarmed IGs and ultimately resulted in Congress changing the law to guarantee fuller cooperation by all agencies.
The latest policy states that all inquiries from members of Congress, committees, or congressional staff must be referred to the office of legislative affairs and that all communications back to them must be cleared by that office.
“Unfortunately, the memorandum fails to address the right of employees to make protected disclosures directly to Congress. The law is clear that any non-disclosure agreement or policy, including any policy that purports to restrict the communications of federal employees, must contain a clear exception for lawful whistleblowing,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Without directly addressing the rights of federal employees to communicate with Congress, the memorandum could leave the impression that the department is attempting to prevent lawful disclosures and discourage employees from exercising their statutory and constitutional rights to directly communicate with Congress,” Grassley wrote in asking Sessions to review the policy for those implications and revise it.