In a friend-of-the-court filing dated Dec. 17, the Government Accountability Project argued that a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 should be declared unconstitutionally vague as it might chill whistleblowers’ speech. In describing the legal landscape affecting whistleblowers’ rights, however, GAP painted an unduly narrow picture of the avenues currently available.
On page 11, counsel for GAP described the protections in the Whistleblower Protection Act as follows:
The primary legislation affecting federal whistleblowers, the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (“WPA”), provides certain federal employees who report evidence of violations of law, rule or regulation including gross mismanagement, waste of funds, or substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety with some protection, including judicial review. See 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8).
It noted that “employees in the intelligence community are excluded from the WPA’s protections.”
The brief then continued to state that
[W]histleblowers in the intelligence community . . . are limited to internal administrative avenues. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (“ICWPA”) is toothless and creates bureaucratic procedures that makes blowing the whistle an exercise in futility. [Emphasis added.]
This particular claim is false. By law, all executive branch employees have the right to make disclosures of classified (or unclassified) information externally–to the Office of Special Counsel. See 5 U.S.C. § 1213(a)(2). The exemption of intelligence workers from protections against reprisal, found in 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii), does not affect their right to make disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel.
As such, the ICWPA is not the only avenue to blow the whistle in the intelligence community. Though the WPA does not provide protections against reprisal to intelligence community employees, it does guarantee confidentiality and an unfiltered channel to the National Security Advisor and relevant intelligence committees in Congress for intelligence-related disclosures. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 1213(h), (j).
Moreover, OSC recently accepted a disclosure from a former FBI employee (FBI is one of the agencies listed in 5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(2)(C)(ii)), further demonstrating that disclosures by intelligence community employees may be made outside the ICWPA.
Update: In a YouTube video posted Dec. 18, OSC official Bruce Fong (at the 3:31 mark) said that
If your disclosure involves information that you believe might be prohibited from public disclosure, be very careful. You must use a protected channel in order to benefit from the protections of the whistleblower laws. So, if you have information in your disclosure that includes classified information, for example, make sure you use one of the protected channels. The office of inspector general is always a protected channel. So is the Office of Special Counsel. [Emphasis added.]