With this directive, Obama hands national security and intelligence community whistleblowers and their advocates an important victory in their frequently frustrating efforts to expand protection against retaliation for federal employees who expose agency misconduct.
Protection for intelligence and national security workers was not included, as advocates had hoped, in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that passed the House last month and now awaits action in the Senate. Retaliation can come in different forms, including dismissals, assignments or revocation of security clearances.
Obama instructed agencies, including the CIA, to establish a review process, within 270 days, that allows employees to appeal actions in conflict with the directive that affect their access to classified information.
Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight , an advocacy group, said in an e-mail that “this unprecedented Presidential Policy Directive is leveled at the endemic culture of secrecy in the intelligence community (IC) and the dearth of accountability it fosters. The directive prohibits retaliation for protected disclosures by IC employees; prohibits retaliatory actions related to security clearances and eligibility for access to classified information and directs agencies to create a review process for related reprisal claims; mandates that each intelligence agency create a review process for claims of retaliation consistent with the policies and procedures in the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA); provides significant remedies where retaliation is substantiated, including reinstatement and compensatory damages; and creates a review board of Inspectors General (IGs) where IC whistleblowers can appeal agency decisions.”
Advocates say these measures not only protect free-speech rights but also make unauthorized leaks of sensitive information less likely by creating a proper avenue for whistleblowers.
But for all it does, the directive “only is a landmark breakthrough in principle,” according to another organization, the Government Accountability Project (GAP).
“Until agencies adopt implementing regulations, no one whose new rights are violated will have any due process to enforce them,” said Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director. “Further, there are only false due process teeth on the horizon.” Regulations to enforce whistleblower rights will be written by the same agencies that routinely are the defendants in whistleblower retaliation lawsuits, according to GAP.
Both Canterbury and Devine praised Obama’s action, while calling on Congress to make his order the law.