"The US Department of Justice (DOJ) leaves some FBI whistleblowers… without protection from retaliation," the GAO report said. "This DOJ policy could also permit retaliatory activity to go uninvestigated and create a chilling effect for future whistleblowers."
The Justice Department dismissed 44 out of 62 complaints of whistleblower retaliation because FBI whistleblowers reported to their supervisors instead of to one of nine authorized high-ranking DOJ or FBI officials, according to the GAO.
"If the employee does not make his or her initial disclosure of wrongdoing to one of these specific entities, the employee cannot later seek corrective action if the employee experiences retaliation," the GAO said.
The GAO explained that by dismissing retaliation complaints based on a disclosure made to an employee's supervisor or someone in the person’s chain of command, the DOJ leaves some whistleblowers without protection from retaliation.
In some instances in which FBI whistleblowers filed a complaint to one of the nine high-ranking officials, the complaint process took between two and ten years, the GAO said.
In one case, FBI agent Jane Turner filed a whistleblower complaint alleging the FBI had stolen items from the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Turner was later dismissed and the DOJ ruled on her case ten years later.
US Federal law prohibits retaliation against whistleblowers, but the FBI was exempted from the regulations and allowed to establish its own policy and procedures, the GAO said.
The policy includes the requirement that whistleblowers report to one of nine high-ranking officials because of sensitivity of FBI information, which they are not aware of, it added.
Without clear information on how to make a protected disclosure, FBI whistleblowers may not be able to seek corrective action if they experience retaliation, according to the GAO. "As a result, we recommended that the Attorney General clarify the department’s guidance and communications on this point," the GAO concluded.
The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for US Congress and investigates how the US federal government spends taxpayer dollars and determines if government policies are meeting objectives.