- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, concerned about the public’s confidence in the bureau, has ordered a review of the FBI office that investigates employee wrongdoing and recommends disciplinary action.

The inquiry, ordered yesterday, targets the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility and will focus on what Mr. Mueller called “an erosion of trust” over accusations of separate disciplinary systems for senior executives and rank-and-file agents and concerns of retaliation by the bureau against FBI whistleblowers.

“FBI employees must trust that allegations of wrongdoing will be thoroughly investigated and that discipline will be appropriate and fair regardless of the assignment or seniority of the employee involved,” Mr. Mueller said in a statement.

“The public must also have confidence that the FBI is holding its employees to the highest standards of professional conduct.”

The inquiry, expected to take up to six months, will be headed by Griffin Bell, attorney general under President Carter and a member of the Webster Commission that reported last year on FBI security failings in the Robert Hanssen spy case and by former FBI executive Lee Colwell. Mr. Colwell, a 24-year bureau veteran who retired in 1985, was on President Clinton’s short list in 1992 for FBI director.

The FBI inquiry comes in the wake of a November report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which said the bureau “suffered and still suffers from a strong, and not unreasonable, perception among employees that a double standard exists” within the FBI.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that perception was fostered by a dual system of discipline before August 2000, in which senior FBI executive were judged in pending discipline matters only by other senior executives.

He cited “several troubling cases” in which the discipline imposed on the executives “appeared unduly lenient and less severe” than discipline for rank-and-file agents and other employees.

“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 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.”

The FBI is exempted from the Whistleblower Protection Act, and its employees are only protected by internal Justice Department regulations.

A bill offered by Sens. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, would end statutory restrictions that contribute to the double standard by which senior FBI executives are not disciplined as harshly as line agents.

Mr. Leahy yesterday called the Mueller announcement “a welcome sign of progress.”

“Our bipartisan hearings revealed that for many years the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility applied a double standard where line agents were punished and senior officials were promoted,” Mr. Leahy said.

“I trust that the commission will aggressively investigate OPR’s recognized failures and will release its findings to the public.”

Mr. Grassley said the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility “faces a lot of challenges and needs reform,” adding that the bureau “needs to be able to police its own without questions about the integrity of that process. If the bureau is sick on the inside, it can’t fight the war on terrorism.”

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