Lawmakers on Tuesday raised concerns about why the Secret Service appears to be trying to identify whistleblowers inside the agency at the same time its director has vowed to fix serious problems that whistleblowers first brought to light.
The chairman and the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee asked Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy in a letter to explain why his investigators have in recent days been questioning staff about internal information that was shared with Congress and became the subject of a Washington Post story this spring. Internal records cited by The Post show that Clancy had not removed a controversial top director as part of a leadership shake-up he promised and that the official remained on the agency’s payroll, listed as Clancy’s chief of staff.
The letter, co-signed by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), came as Clancy testified to Congress that he is working hard to reform the troubled agency, which has been plagued by security gaffes, staffing shortages, plummeting morale and cases of internal misconduct. Several of its problems were brought to light by current and former staff speaking anonymously to Congress and The Post.
In the letter, Chaffetz and Cummings urged Clancy to cease the Secret Service’s hunt for whistleblowers and instead refer the matter to the agency’s inspector general. They noted that many Secret Service staff fear retaliation for speaking up about internal problems and that whistleblowers should not have to fear probes that could find their identities.
“Secret Service personnel — like all federal employees — have a constitutional right to communicate with Congress under the First Amendment, and it is against the law to deny or interfere with an employee’s right to furnish information to Congress,” the lawmakers wrote.
Chaffetz went further, calling the Secret Service investigation “highly inappropriate” and said he fears it is part of a broader agency effort to chill whistleblowers from sharing concerns in the future. Some personnel were asked to sign agreements saying they would not discuss what they were questioned about — a potential violation of employee’s federal rights to contact Congress with their concerns.
Clancy, answering one lawmaker’s question, asserted Tuesday that he has no desire to retaliate against internal whistleblowers.
“Everyone knows whistleblowers perform an important function,” Clancy said. “You gotta, uh, let them go.”
But the agency has behaved quite differently in the wake of an avalanche of unflattering news stories that has led to the resignation of its director in 2014 and the removal of all but a fraction of the senior leadership team. Some of those stories cited information provided by current and former agency employees, who told The Post they provided the material out of concern the Service leadership has been trying to keep security failures, staff misconduct and systemic problems under wraps.
This summer, Secret Service investigators had joined in an inspector general investigation and questioned an agent about his contact with The Post and confronted him with his personal cellphone records showing alleged calls and texts with a Post reporter. The agent, according to the inspector general’s report, later resigned.
A Secret Service spokesman said the agency will provide a comment in response to the letter later today.