A new Presidential Policy Directive aimed at protecting whistleblowers with access to classified information marks an important step in securing the rights of government employees who try to expose waste, fraud, and abuse.
The directive, issued by President Barack Obama, bans retaliation against employees for protected disclosures, though it does not extend to disclosures to Congress or the public. It sets standards that Congress has so far failed to put into law. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act has been approved in the House but has yet to make it through the Senate, and it does not contain the intelligence-community protections outlined in the directive.
As Government Accountability Project (GAP) Legal Director Tom Devine said in his statements about the directive, it does not provide the enforcement power that Congress could enact in statute.
"This policy directive represents a significant breakthrough, but it is no substitute for Congress to legislate permanent rights for national security whistleblowers, with third party enforcement the same as for other employees," Devine wrote.
Devine also points out that under the directive alone, without a law from Congress, the regulations enforcing whistleblower rights "will be written by the same agencies that routinely are the defendants in whistleblower retaliation lawsuits."
While Obama's directive marks a positive step toward protecting those who expose wrongdoing, it also marks a contrast in the administration that critics have charged with leading a harsh crackdown on whistleblowers. This comes from an administration that included in its inaugural ethics agenda a section pledging to "empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance."
That section went on to say Obama would "ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process."
The Project on Government Oversight and Open the Government also have assessments of the presidential directive. For more information on the issue of whistleblowing, look to a previous panel discussion held by the Advisory Committee on Transparency.