Friday, July 20, 2012
The value of whistleblowers to the public good, and the need to protect whistleblowers, is clear as ever. Whistleblowers within federal government agencies have courageously and patriotically stepped forward to point out waste, fraud and abuse of tax dollars. A famous whistleblower decades ago said whistleblowers are guilty of "committing truth." We're all better off for the truth whistleblowers commit, and they deserve our respect and support.
Click here for audio.
Here is the text of the address:
The value of whistleblowers to the public good, and the need to protect whistleblowers, is clear as ever.
Without whistleblowers, the public probably never would have known about the operational tactics in the federal government's Fast and Furious program that might have led to the murder of United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. That's why Congressman Darrell Issa and I have asked the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to clarify his remarks to employees about reporting concerns within the agency. His ominous comments are likely to chill whistleblowers from reporting legitimate problems and undermine very necessary efforts to make improvements in the agency. The message sent by the acting director of the ATF is unacceptable.
Another federal agency - the Food and Drug Administration - is also demonstrating the kind of intense retaliation whistleblowers can face. The FDA started an aggressive campaign more than two years ago to spy on protected, personal email messages of certain agency employees. Then the FDA retaliated against these agency whistleblowers after they raised concerns to Congress about the safety of drugs and devices approved by the FDA.
What the FDA has done has serious implications for the right of federal employees to make valuable protected disclosures about waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, or public safety to Congress or anyone else. This kind of communication is protected for good reason. The scope and tone of the surveillance effort reveals an agency more concerned about protecting itself than protecting the public, which ironically is the agency's mission. I will continue to dig in and pursue information and accountability from the FDA.
Finally, this week the Judiciary Committee, where I serve as Ranking Member, held a hearing on improving forensic science in the criminal justice system. I renewed my request for information from the FBI about the scientific integrity of its crime lab, and from the Department of Justice about its review of past prosecutions.
The Department of Justice is conducting an expansive review of criminal cases where defendants may have been wrongly convicted because of flawed forensic work in the FBI crime lab following investigative reporting by The Washington Post that indicated that "sloppy" and "unreliable" work may have led to the incarceration of hundreds of innocent people. This review needs to avoid mistakes made by a previous task force, so that the forensic science system in this country is as good as it can be.
Today's problems in the FBI crime lab follow improvements made 15 years ago, after a crime lab scientist named Dr. Frederic Whitehurst risked his career to come forward with allegations about wrongdoing in the FBI crime lab. At that time, the scientific integrity of the lab and thousands of prosecutions that relied on evidence it processed were in question. Dr. Whitehurst was retaliated against by the FBI, as well. Ultimately, after a lengthy fight, Dr. Whitehurst's disclosures resulted in an independent investigation that recommended lab changes, including accreditation by an outside body. Today, again, work needs to be done to safeguard the integrity of the FBI lab.
I stand up for whistleblowers through legislation to empower and protect them, and through congressional oversight of the federal agencies they legitimately, and importantly challenge. A famous whistleblower decades ago said whistleblowers are guilty of committing "truth." We're all better off for the truth they commit, and they deserve our respect and support.