- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on Wednesday, in response to a barrage of questions from a senior Senate Judiciary Committee Republican about the bureau’s role in stripping protections for FBI whistleblowers in pending legislation, said he was unaware of any such effort.

Mr. Mueller told Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa that he did not know about any plans by FBI officials to attempt to weaken the pending Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009, sponsored in February by Mr. Grassley and 36 other lawmakers, and was unsure where they came from.

Citing a report last month in The Washington Times that described the effort, Mr. Grassley said the new bill would “update and enhance whistleblower protections for all government employees” but a substitute bill offered in July included “a dangerous provision that strikes the current whistleblower protection system for FBI employees.

“In chasing down where this came from, I’ve heard a number of different things. Some have said the provision came from the White House, others said the intelligence community and others have directly stated it was done at the request of the FBI,” the senator said. “I’m very concerned with this provision striking the existing provisions and have been working to determine who authored it.

“So, Director Mueller, was that troubling provision included at your request, the request of other FBI officials or someone else?” Mr. Grassley asked, noting that the director repeatedly has testified before the committee that he would not tolerate any retaliation against whistleblowers.

Mr. Mueller deflected questions but said he would attempt to get answers for Mr. Grassley. When pressed whether he would support keeping the existing protections, the director said he was unfamiliar with the specific statute.

“I can’t do that now; I’m not really familiar with the issue,” said Mr. Mueller, adding that he broadly supports whistleblower protections.

The Senate version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a measure initially lauded by supporters as a major advance in protections for federal employees exposing waste and fraud, has been increasingly picked apart as the details of the measure have rolled out.

FBI whistleblowers who championed protections for national security and intelligence employees decried the measure last month when they learned it would decrease some protections for FBI employees.

“Using the whistleblower enhancement act to sabotage pending whistleblower cases was underhanded and unethical,” said Stephen M. Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center, who represents two FBI agents whose cases would be thrown out if the provision survives.

“The FBI must promptly respond to Senator Grassley’s questions, and those responsible for misusing the legislative process to undermine whistleblower protections within the FBI must be held fully accountable,” Mr. Kohn said.

Senate sponsors and the White House, which had a close hand in drafting the Senate measure, have promised to restore the FBI protections to the bill, Mr. Grassley said. But he said he still wants to know who was responsible for the provision.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who has worked closely with Mr. Grassley on whistleblower protections in the past, backed Mr. Grassley’s efforts to press the agency over the whistleblower provisions.

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