Sometimes Uncle Sam’s rules and regulations just don’t make sense.
Take the case of Darin Jones, a former FBI employee who said he was fired after making whistleblower disclosures about a $234,000 awards ceremony, improper procurement spending and a conflict of interest involving a former assistant director and computer help desk contract among other complaints.
“I was wrongfully terminated from my GS-15 Supervisory Contract Specialist in retaliation for whistleblowing on August 24, 2012, the last day of my one year probationary period,” Jones said.
This story isn’t about whether his allegations are right or wrong, but how the FBI and the Justice Department treats employees who, in good faith, make allegations about waste, fraud and abuse.
Jones’s appeal of his dismissal was rejected because he took his allegations to the wrong place. He went to his supervisors, which is reasonable in a rational world. But the FBI has a list of appropriate places for staffers to take allegations, like the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility. Jones’s boss wasn’t on the list.
It’s kind of like the FBI refusing to investigate a child’s kidnapping because the parents first called the local police.
In too many cases, FBI whistleblowers are treated like the wrongdoers the FBI hunts, instead of the concerned citizens the FBI needs. Unlike most other federal employees, FBI staffers who fight adverse personnel actions are subjected to what can be an interminable in-house process, with no outside appeal allowed.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R- Iowa) and Ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) have introduced legislation to change that. Their FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act would expand the group of people who can receive disclosures from whistleblowers to include their supervisors. The bill’s summary says the measure also would replace “the lengthy and opaque adjudication process” in the Justice Department’s Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, where Jones’s appeal resides, with administrative law judges, who could come from outside the FBI. Unlike now, under the bill FBI employees potentially could appeal decisions to the court system.
“It’s no secret that FBI whistleblowers often face harsh consequences for simply trying to address failures or misconduct at work,” Grassley said. “Inconsistent and confusing disclosure rules and perpetual delays in retaliation investigations have left well-intentioned whistleblowers without adequate protections from reprisal.”
That’s where Jones is. His appeal process is approaching 3.5 years with no end in sight. That might seem like a long time to average folks, but it’s not an unusual amount of time for the FBI. The Justice Department took up to four years to close nearly one-quarter of the whistleblower retaliation complaints reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.
His case is “a perfect example of what’s wrong with the FBI whistleblower regulations and the fact that we need legislation so that FBI [workforce] is protected just like every other whistleblower in the executive branch of government,” Grassley said during an interview.
“They’ve shown us for a long period of time, not only that they don’t like whistleblowers and they punish whistleblowers, but they also showed us they really don’t want anything on paper on how whistleblowers should be protected.”
Just as Justice has not engaged with Grassley’s office on the legislation, the department ignored a request to comment on this story. FBI Director James B. Comey, however, has endorsed the possibility of better whistleblower protections for his staff, at least in theory.
“I think it’s very, very important that we create the safe zones that all of our people need to raise concerns that they might have,” he told Grassley during a December hearing. “That’s potentially a huge range of things. So I want to be thoughtful about what we’re considering whistleblowing as we do this. But I’m open to try and improve the way we approach it.”
Whatever the legislation does, whatever the FBI might do, it is too late to prevent the suffering Jones has already endured, an experience he calls “unbearable.” He hasn’t been able to find work and relies on his wife’s teacher’s salary to support their family.
“It’s very challenging, very difficult, very painful and very stressful,” Jones said. “It’s been that way from the day of my wrongful termination to the present day.”
In addition to job-hunt rejections, even former colleagues are distant, situations he attributes to being fired.
What is “very sad,” he added, is “whistleblowers become radioactive.”