In its early weeks, Congress has signaled that treatment of whistleblowers will be a major area of focus in its oversight of federal agencies this year.
At a testy hearing in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, members of both parties criticized the TSA’s record in releasing information related to investigations into alleged retaliation. They particularly criticized how the agency invoked attorney-client privilege in withholding information from the Office of Special Counsel, and its use of the “sensitive security information” designation in withholding information–which in some cases was publicly available elsewhere.
Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, followed with a letter demanding that the TSA turn over to his panel by the end of this week all the documents that the OSC had requested; the names of agency employees who had advised the agency to withhold documents; a copy of the agency’s policies on invoking attorney-client privilege; and its schedule for giving OSC all the documents requested.
Meanwhile, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, has asked Commerce, Interior, State and DHS to report on how they comply with law granting whistleblower protection for employees of government contractors, subcontractors and grantees.
Her request follows a GAO report finding that those departments had sometimes failed to include or update appropriate clauses in contracts and grants requiring that employees be informed of those rights. She also asked the IGs of those agencies how they will see that the underlying law is enforced.
Further, language in a recently introduced House bill (HR-1259) on Veterans Affairs disciplinary matters would shorten the notice and appeal rights for supervisors and managers accused of taking retaliation.