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FBI to expand whistleblower protections

The Justice Department is moving to overhaul its in-house whistleblower protection policies, following allegations of a pattern of retaliation against employees who expose problems at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

slate of 11 DOJ recommendations, made public Tuesday by a pair of lawmakers, come at the end of a two-year agency review of the regulations in place to ensure workers can come forward without fear of reproach. 

The department has already begun implementing some of the recommendations, while others will require formal rule-making, Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik told Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyMnuchin, Price meet with GOP senators Business groups express support for Branstad nomination 10 no-brainer ways to cut healthcare costs without hurting quality MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRon WydenSenate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Senate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Budowsky: Did Putin elect Trump? MORE (D-Ore.) by letter this week. 

“The Department recognizes the important role played by whistleblowers in our law enforcement efforts,” Kadzik wrote. “We take very seriously our responsibilities with regard to FBI employees who make protected disclosures under the regulations.” 

Among the proposed changes are a formal rule creating a mediation program to settle disputes involving whistleblowers, amended rules allowing them to receive compensatory damages and an administrative move to expand the list of officials to whom disclosures can be made.

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The agency is also proposing to publish decisions in whistleblower cases and implement training on agency whistleblower regulations, including the applicable responsibilities of bureau employees. 

President Obama ordered the review in October 2012, following reports that those who reported problems at the bureau have been confined to basement offices, given little work to do and had their reputations tarnished with “loss of effectiveness” labels.

Obama directed the Justice Department to deliver findings about the effectiveness of existing regulations and needed fixes within 180 days. They come better late than never for Grassley and Wyden, who have prodded the administration to release the report for months. 

“They have been a long time in coming, but many of the Justice Department proposals to improve protections and due process for whistleblowers at the FBI would be significant improvements,” Wyden said “What’s important now is to make sure the Department follows through and really makes those changes.”    

The lawmakers note that the proposed expansion of officials to whom whistleblowers can report problems only extends to the top two levels of management in each office and not to a whistleblower’s immediate supervisor. Other agencies have less restrictive policies in place, they said. 

Still, Grassley said the measures reflect progress for the agency.

“Nobody’s got on rose-colored glasses that the culture for whistleblowers at the FBI will change anytime soon, but many of the items outlined in the FBI’s analysis are promising,” he said. “I’m not a fan of all of the recommendations, but it would at least be a step forward if some of them are actually implemented and carried out.”