- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Two senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee want the FBI to put an end to a double standard of discipline for senior bureau executives and rank-and-file agents, saying it is unfair and a threat to national security in the wake of September 11.

"We cannot afford a double standard that saps morale from the FBI's frontline agents," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and committee chairman. "Too much is at stake for the FBI to perpetuate this culture of protecting senior officials and covering up management problems."

"The FBI's discipline system still needs serious reform it's not equitable or fair," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, a senior Republican committee member. "It still allows a clique of top officials to judge one another and change punishment without explanation or accountability."

The comments came in response to a report last week by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which concluded after a lengthy investigation that the FBI "suffered and still suffers from a strong, and not unreasonable, perception among employees that a double standard exists" within the bureau.

In the report, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that perception was fostered by the existence of a dual system of discipline that existed before August 2000, in which FBI Senior Executive Service supervisors were judged in pending discipline matters only by other SES members.

It also cited "several troubling cases" in which the discipline imposed on SES employees "appeared unduly lenient and less severe" than discipline in similar cases involving non-SES employees.

Despite changes by the FBI in August 2000 to equalize disciplinary standards, the report said concerns remain over the new guidelines that allow SES members the right of appeal to a board made up of three SES members, one of whom the person under investigation selects.

"The perception, and possibly the reality may be, that a double standard of discipline may continue to exist," Mr. Fine said.

Former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh also was criticized in the report for "poor judgment" in his oversight of FBI discipline and for promotions he approved for senior FBI executives that sent a message to the rank-and-file that the bureau would "overlook serious allegations of misconduct and even reward the subject of the allegation with a major promotion."

In a statement, the FBI said changes in disciplinary rules ordered by Mr. Freeh in 1997 solved many of the problems and that rules governing the disciplinary process continue to be reviewed so the bureau can "fairly and expeditiously identify misconduct wherever it occurs and appropriately punish the involved persons without fear or favor to anyone."

Mr. Leahy and Mr. Grassley said the report reinforced ongoing efforts by the committee to bring the Leahy-Grassley FBI Reform Act to a vote. The proposed legislation was unanimously approved by the committee in April, but its pending passage by the Senate has been blocked by a hold placed by an anonymous Republican senator.

"This report further documents the strong and not unreasonable perception that a demoralizing double standard exists at the FBI that means slaps on the wrist for senior officials for misconduct that gets line agents fired," said Mr. Leahy, noting the report said the FBI for the first time would support the bill.

Until now, he said, the Justice Department and the FBI had taken no formal position.

The committee, which has investigated suspected double standards of discipline within the FBI for 15 months, requested the inspector general's investigation.

The FBI Reform Act would expand whistleblower protection to ensure that FBI agents and employees get the same protection as other government employees.

The FBI is exempted from the Whistleblower Protection Act, and its employees are only protected by internal Justice Department regulations. The Leahy-Grassley bill would end statutory restrictions that contribute to the double standard by which senior management officials are not disciplined as harshly as line agents.

The bill also would give the inspector general the authority to investigate internal problems at the FBI and help plan solutions.

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