GOP applauds new DOJ whistleblower protection position

Republican lawmakers are lauding the appointment of an ombudsman for the Justice Department’s inspector general to tamp down on retaliation against whistleblowers and ensure allegations of waste or abuse are dealt with speedily.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said their joint investigation of the DOJ’s failed gun-tracking operation “Fast and Furious” directly led to the need for the whistleblower ombudsman position, which IG Michael Horowitz created on Wednesday.

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Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was first told by a whistleblower about the controversial "gun walking” tactics in Fast and Furious, which oversaw the sale of about 2,000 weapons to straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels in a botched attempt to dismantle their gun-trafficking routes. Hundreds of the weapons were lost.

“In light of Operation Fast and Furious, this position is especially necessary at the Justice Department,” Grassley said in a statement.

“Without whistleblowers, mismanagement, abuse and wrongdoing would go undetected. This effort is an important first step and, to be effective, the ombudsman needs to appreciate these realities and stand up to intense pressure from agencies to discredit whistleblowers.”

Grassley and Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have backed legislation that would expand the protections given to whistleblowers and create an ombudsman role to educate agency employees about their rights.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), passed the upper chamber in May. And while the House has yet to take action on the measure, Issa said the move by Horowitz to appoint Robert Storch as ombudsman will create a new level of trust in the department.

“The creation of this new position by the inspector general is a clear and positive response to the difficulties ATF Fast and Furious whistleblowers encountered,” Issa said in a statement. “The ombudsperson should give DOJ employees greater confidence to come forward when they see wrongdoing or abuse.”

Storch’s new responsibilities will include making sure whistleblower complaints are addressed promptly by the IG, keeping whistleblowers up to speed about the IG’s progress in investigating any allegations they raise, monitoring retaliation claims and educating agency employees about their whistleblower protection rights.

“Whistleblowers play a critical role in uncovering waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement,” Horowitz said in a statement. “This new position will enable the [office of the inspector general] to continue its leadership as a strong and independent voice within the Department of Justice on whistleblower issues.”

Grassley said he plans to ask for regular updates about how the new position is affecting whistleblowers in the DOJ.

One of the most anticipated reports from the inspector general’s office is its investigation of Fast and Furious, which could provide a new depth of understanding about who is responsible for allowing agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to let guns “walk” into the hands of known criminals with no plan to get them back.

The IG is expected to complete its report soon.