What Happens to FBI Whistleblower Retaliation Complaints?

Posted on June 18, 2015
Whistleblowers play a key role in saving taxpayer money and reducing fraud, waste, and abuse in the federal government. But what happens when one faces retaliation for blowing the whistle? Today’s WatchBlog explores what we found happens to whistleblowers at the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) when they allege retaliation. Whistleblowers’ long waits From 2009 to 2013, DOJ closed 62 FBI whistleblower retaliation complaints. The majority of these were closed within 1 year, though some took up to 10 years to resolve, as shown below. Overall,
  • 44 complaints (71%) were closed within a year,
  • 15 complaints took from 1 to 4 years to close, and
  • 3 complaints took from 4 to 10.6 years to close.

The 3 cases that took the longest were the only ones we reviewed where DOJ ultimately found in favor of the whistleblower and ordered corrective action, such as back pay or reimbursement for attorney’s fees.

GAO-15-112(Excerpted from GAO-15-112, click here for figure with notes)

DOJ has made some efforts to improve the efficiency of the complaint process, such as hiring additional staff and developing stricter time frames. But given how long DOJ took to close some complaints, among other reasons, we recommended that relevant DOJ entities
  • provide complainants with estimates of when to expect DOJ decisions; and
  • monitor whether the DOJ investigators examining the complaints comply with requirements, such as updating the complainant on the progress of the investigation.
Whom to tell? Unlike most Executive Branch employees, FBI whistleblowers are generally not protected from retaliation when they report allegations of wrongdoing to their supervisor. Under DOJ regulations, FBI employees can only seek corrective action for retaliation if they reported the wrongdoing to 1 of 9 high-level FBI or DOJ entities, such as the Attorney General or FBI Director. However, the FBI doesn’t always make clear to its employees that its list of entities is narrower than for other DOJ employees. Of the 62 retaliation complaints we reviewed, DOJ declined 17, at least in part, because the employee reported their complaint to a supervisor or someone in their chain of command who was not 1 of the 9 entities. We identified 2 ways to help address some of these problems: