Obama backs whistle-blowers but not in intell

Administration instead supports creating avenue within the executive branch

The Obama administration is ready to expand protections for federal whistle-blowers this year, but it does not support provisions in a House bill that would allow national security personnel to pursue court remedies, a senior official testified today.

Administration officials object to court access for intelligence employees because it would jeopardize classified information affecting national security, Rajesh De, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today.

Instead, they support creating an “extra-agency avenue within the executive branch” for federal employees who wish to make classified disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse to Congress, De said.

“The executive branch must be able to exercise control over national security information where necessary,” De said, in opposing certain provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009, or H.R. 1507.

Supporters of the bill said they were disappointed with the White House’s stance.

"Without granting national security whistle-blowers full court access, the administrative scheme proposed by the Department of Justice is doomed to fail," David K. Colapinto, general counsel of the National Whistleblowers Center, said in a statement today. He asserted in his testimony that agencies already have sufficient procedures in place to protect classified information in the event a case goes to court.

At the same time, De said the administration is prepared to support some additional whistle-blower protections to strengthen reporting of frauds related to government spending and especially related to the recent economic stimulus law.

“The administration believes the time has come to amend the system once again,” De testified. “The president is eager to sign legislation this year that ensures safe and effective channels for whistle-blowers to report and correct wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.”

The committee's chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), said the House passed whistle-blower provisions similar to those in H.R. 1507 in 2007 and as a bipartisan amendment in the stimulus law. However, the amendment was removed in the Senate.

In related news, the Project on Government Oversight reported on May 13 that only seven state Web sites tracking the economic stimulus law spending include complete information for prospective whistle-blowers, including details on how to report suspected fraud, legal information and hotline phone numbers. Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine and Texas presented the most complete instructions.

All 50 states have established Web sites to track the estimated $300 billion they will receive from the stimulus legislation.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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