Bill would make 'taking the Fifth' a firing offense for feds

Mo Brooks

Rep. Mo Brooks has introduced legislation that would make invoking Fifth Amendment rights a firing offense for feds.

Federal employees who refuse to answer questions in congressional hearings would have their employment terminated under a new bill proposed by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).

The move comes in the wake of Internal Revenue Service Lois Lerner's appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee to testify about her role in scrutinizing the applications of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. At the hearing, Lerner delivered a brief statement, invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and was asked to leave. Lerner is currently on administrative leave as a result.

Under Brooks' legislation, a federal employee who "refuses to answer questions specifically, directly, and narrowly relating to the official duties of such employee, without being required to waive immunity" would be terminated. The rule would also apply to employees who refused to testify before Congress even with a grant of immunity. Witnesses whose testimony was deemed to be "willfully or knowingly" false by a three-fourths majority of a committee would also be terminated.

"This legislation is constitutional and necessary to enable Congress to provide proper oversight for the American people," Brooks said in a statement to The Hill.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Fri, Jun 28, 2013

Mo Brooks is a horrible excuse for a U.S. Representative. Maybe he needs to answer a few questions himself.

Wed, Jun 26, 2013

Time to get the waterboards, iron maidens, racks and branding irons out of storage. We will make those worthless workers tell us what we want to know. All of America will respect our patriotic inquisition.

Wed, Jun 26, 2013

There is no constitutional right to be a federal employee. This congressman is a Republican- perhaps he does not realize that this law will more likely be used to terminate conservative civil servants.

Wed, Jun 26, 2013

I agree this is not a 5th amendment issue. The bill does not preclude them from inacting the 5th, but there is a logical consequence. If you work for the government you have a fiduciary responsibility to the people. If you are not willing to disclose information about your conduct in your official capacity you should be fired. As another stated, if you are in private industry and are brought before your employer and asked questions about your conduct in your duties and you refuse to answer, you will be fired. This bill does not remove the choice to plead the 5th, but it does protect the people from further abuse by a nefarious public servant.

Tue, Jun 25, 2013

I see a lot of people see this as a 5th Amendment issue. The problem with that approach is that they are not considering the issue of employment responsibilities. If I pay someone to do a job and part of their responsibility is to report what they did (exactly this situation) then not only do I have the right to fire them for not providing me what they did as part of their job, but technically I am owed back what I paid them to do that reporting. When you are a high level manager you owe your bosses (in this case, both Congress and the public) an honest reporting of what you did. Whether they might get prosecuted for doing something illegal is irrelevant - they still owe the reporting. Firing the person is entirely justified for not providing that information for which they were hired and paid to do. This is not a 5th Amendment issue. Even with firing these people, taxpayers are stilled owed back the service what these apparently corrupt individuals were supposed to have provided so punishment for fraud, waste or abuse can also be applicable. They get paid big bucks to be responsible, so they should be held responsible for their actions. It is as simple as that.

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