Policy and News Updates for August 21, 2007


Policy Updates

In This Issue:

I. Defense Dept. orders stronger protections for whistleblowers
II. Court tells government to turn over spying docs


 

I. Defense Dept. orders stronger protections for whistleblowers
Last month, the Department of Defense (DOD) took a positive step to better protect uniformed and civilian employees from retaliation for reporting wrongdoing. The Directive, issued on July 23, 2007 and posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a coalition partner of OpenTheGovernment.org, will ensure:

    • Punishment for officers or civilian supervisors found to have restrained or reprised against whistleblowers.
    • Mandatory investigations of whistleblower complaints by service inspector general offices within 180 days.
    • Regulations to cover disclosures made within the military chain-of-command, as well as disclosures made to Congress or inspector generals.

As PEER noted in a statement, "In cases ranging from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to extensive contractor fraud, the Iraq conflict has heightened the role of military whistleblowers…This is a crucial time for our people on the front lines to know that telling the truth is expected and suppressing the truth will not be tolerated."

 

In March, the House passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (H.R. 985) by a vote of 331-94. On the Senate side, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee marked up its version of the bill (S. 274) in June. The White House has threatened to veto the Whistleblower Protection Act. On August 3, President Bush signed the "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007" Act (PL 110-053; H.R. 1). The law gives protections for employees of railroad, trucking, public transit, bus, and other land transportation providers.

Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, in an interview by e-mail, told OpenTheGovernment.org, "This development should help Congress move forward with whistleblower reform legislation since uniformed military personnel now enjoy some of the key safeguards denied to their civilian counterparts. It will be difficult for the Bush administration to continue to argue that stronger whistleblower laws threaten orderly administration of government when the military agencies – which depend upon order and discipline – have already embraced these changes."

According to Ruch, DOD will soon publish another set of directives which concentrate on civilian DOD employees, including those in national security jobs.

Also see: In departure from Rumsfeld era, Pentagon aims to toughen whistleblower protections [The Hill 8.1.07]

II. Court tells government to turn over spying docs
In an order that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called "unprecedented", the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has told the U.S. government to respond to a request it received last week from the ACLU for orders and legal papers addressing the secret wiretapping of Americans.

"Disclosure of these court orders and legal papers is essential to the ongoing debate about government surveillance. We desperately need greater transparency and public scrutiny," Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, said in a statement.

The ACLU filed the request after Congress passed the Protect America Act of 2007 (S. 1927), which allows the United States government to eavesdrop on people outside of the U.S. whose communications are routed through the U.S. The legislation has been criticized because of its vague wording and the possibility it might give the administration broad searching powers. The legislation will expire in six months, but could be renewed.

According to the New York Times, the Justice Department is reviewing the court’s order but would not say whether the administration will oppose the request. The government must respond by August 31.

Meanwhile, the White House again missed the deadline to comply with subpoenas from the Senate Judiciary Committee for documents related to the warrantless surveillance program. Materials were due to the Committee at 2:30pm on Monday, August 20, but White House counsel Fred F. Fielding indicated that more time was needed. Also yesterday, Vice President Cheney’s office acknowledged for the first time that it has documents related to the surveillance program. Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy [D-VT] said he will pursue contempt proceedings against administration officials if the documents are not produced.

News from Coalition Partners and Others

 

New blog on secrecy
The Secrecy File includes daily developments about the growing level of secrecy in the federal government and how it impacts the public’s right to know from Cox Newspapers.

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