Federal investigators probe drug agency's crackdown on whistleblowers

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"The law is intended to prevent exactly what this agency is accused of doing," Grassley said in a statement. "A federal agency can’t interfere with an employee’s communications with Congress. An agency can’t retaliate against employees for communicating with Congress. And an agency’s right to access an employee’s personal email without a subpoena is limited to messages transmitted through or accessed from a government computer. An independent review is necessary to determine how much of the agency’s conduct was legal and how much was illegal."

The independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency said in a release that it has "received new and troubling allegations of retaliatory surveillance of OSC communications and other acts of retaliation against the whistleblowers, including FDA attempts to initiate criminal prosecution of the whistleblowers. We are reviewing these additional allegations and information from Congress and will take appropriate action."

The alleged threats against the employees — at least one of whom has been fired — are illegal under the Whistleblower Protection Act, the OSC warned.

"Monitoring employee emails with OSC or Congress could dissuade employees from making important disclosures," special counsel Carolyn Lerner said in the press release. "Monitoring communications with OSC is unacceptable. We encourage other agencies to review their policies to ensure that they are not monitoring or otherwise impeding employee disclosures to OSC or Congress."

—This story was updated at 3:45 p.m.