The Aldrich Alert
Gary Aldrich

A Publication of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty

Congressional Baby Steps

March 17, 2001

by Gary Aldrich - Volume 2, Issue 14

This article appeared on on Thursday, March 14, 2002.

Senators Grassley and Leahy have introduced legislation entitled the "FBI Reform Act of 2002" to ostensibly address systemic problems at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Everyone seems to agree that some change is necessary, but I have seen little in the Grassley-Leahy bill that gives me confidence things will improve at the FBI if this law passes and is signed by President Bush.

Whatís proposed can only be considered "baby steps" toward a solution to a much bigger problem. Given the numerous and recent well-publicized missteps, the public is ready to believe FBI reforms are necessary. There is a unique opportunity to make meaningful changes. So, why wonít the Senate propose real reform?

A key element of the proposed reform is to bring FBI employees under a whistleblower umbrella of protection by making them eligible for "all the benefits" afforded other federal employees currently covered under the existing whistleblower protection act. Before we consider the merits of the rest of what these well-meaning senators propose, we should first determine how useful the inclusion of FBI employees under this act would be.

Today, there are no benefits for federal employees afforded by the current Whistleblower Protection Act. The only benefits fall to federal agencies whose legions of lawyers have managed, over the years, to totally gut the act. The current "protections" are as tattered and useful as a blown-out bumbershoot on a cold, windy day in Chicago.

Federal employees who trudge off to work each day believing they have an obligation and a right to surface serious wrongdoing will get the shock of their soon-to-be-ending careers if they ever try to use this law. There are no protections!

Major whistleblower advocates like the Patrick Henry Center, the Project on Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project have been working for years to get some teeth back into the whistleblower laws.

Ironically, the more incompetent and corrupt a federal agency is, the greater the benefits for the "guilty" federal agency. Seasoned agency managers can pretend they have a whistleblower protection system while unleashing a legal and professional jihad against any honest, well-meaning insider who sets out to correct a serious wrong.

Under the existing meaningless law, revengeful bureaucrats will always get away with it!

Iím certainly for following the chain of command to try to correct serious wrongdoing, especially at a time like this. After all, employee managers are hired to be honest and paid to correct problems. But thereís no evidence that – even now, when we are at war and good performance counts for more – anything has gotten better.

Actually, the war provides new excuses for keeping the lid on any internal problems: Silencing whistleblowers can be claimed as a good thing to do, in the interest of national security!

But consider that two of the terrorists received approvals from the INS for their student visa applications, by ordinary mail, to the flight school in Florida where they learned how to crash airplanes into our buildings, exactly six months after they began the worst attack on America that has ever been launched!

Are there more than a few honest INS insiders yearning to come forward right now to make a report to a person in a position of authority – someone who could make positive change – so that incompetence like this can be prevented in the future? Will INS employees come forward? The answer is "yes" … if they want to end their career in the federal service. Itís just that simple.

Our U.S. senators must understand that the concept of telling the truth about agency shortcomings is as alien a concept to a federal bureaucrat as, say, working for free.

Those of us who have tried to surface national-security shortcomings are well aware of the real reason bureaucrats move to silence a whistleblower. Corrupt, scared, lazy federal managersí motivations often have more to do with covering up inadequate responses to earlier warnings. These cowards donít want to be seen by higher-ups as incompetent, cynical or uncaring.

Want real whistleblower protections? Want real reform inside the FBI and other important federal agencies? Then strengthen existing whistleblower protection laws, and severely punish those bureaucrats who are caught trying to silence our brave whistleblowers.

How about having an awards ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House to celebrate the courage of those honest federal employees who were "mad as hell, and refused to take it anymore!" Our soldiers are fighting to protect our freedom overseas, and we rightfully praise them. Our whistleblowers are fighting to maintain some semblance of excellence here at home. Wouldnít you agree, considering the odds stacked against them, whistleblowers deserve more than scorn?

Agency bureaucrats often label whistleblowers as "crazy," and in the current "kill the messenger" environment, maybe they are. But passing a feel-good bill that does little to protect whistleblowers is not exactly the sanest thing to do – especially during times of war.