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49 Organizations Call on Congress to Restore Whistleblower Rights for Intelligence Contractors

Oct. 30, 2014

*Make It Safe Coalition*

49 Organizations Call on Congress to Restore Whistleblower Rights for Intelligence Contractors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress should quickly restore whistleblower rights for government contractors who work in the intelligence community (IC), 49 ideologically diverse organizations and the Make It Safe Coalition told lawmakers in a letter today.

The letter, which was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House Committees on Armed Services, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, cautioned that IC contractors are defenseless against retaliation when they disclose government waste, fraud, abuse, gross mismanagement or a violation of law. Passage of an amendment (SA 3711) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2015 put forth by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) would fix that.

“In the absence of adequate protections, they have only two alternatives to almost certain retaliation: 1) remain silent observers of wrongdoing; or 2) make anonymous leaks,” the letter says.

The Make It Safe Coalition consists of 75 organizations ranging from consumer and taxpayer protection organizations to labor unions and media transparency groups. The signatory organizations to today’s letter range from the ACLU and Center for Media and Democracy to the Liberty Coalition and the National Taxpayers Union.

In the fiscal year 2008 NDAA, whistleblower rights enforceable through district court jury trials were enacted for all Department of Defense (DoD) contractors, including at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (NSA). Contrary to predictions that contractor whistleblowers would flood the courts, 25 cases were filed from 2008 through 2012 under the DoD contractor provision, including from the intelligence community. In 2009, best practice rights were enacted for all government contract employees paid with stimulus funds, including other IC agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency.

The whistleblower shield was so successful in deterring taxpayer waste and contractor abuse that the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency proposed permanent expansion for all government contractors. In 2012, McCaskill introduced a whistleblower protection amendment for all government contractors, and it won bipartisan Senate approval in the fiscal year 2013 NDAA.

However, during the closing conference committee negotiations, whistleblower rights were extended only to contractors outside of the intelligence community. Preexisting rights for IC contractors were removed, despite a proven track record that the law was working as intended and did not produce any adverse impacts on national security during its five-year lifespan.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosure to the media of the NSA’s secret mass electronic surveillance data mining program PRISM is a perfect example of why intelligence contractors need a mechanism to safely disclose suspected waste, fraud and abuse, the groups maintain. When Snowden was asked why he didn’t work within the system to blow the whistle, he said, “I had read the laws. I knew what would happen, I knew that there were no whistleblower protections that would protect me.”

The restoration of IC contractor whistleblower rights would help safeguard billions of taxpayer dollars in government contracts, grants and reimbursements annually. To better protect taxpayer dollars, our country and Americans’ privacy, Congress must restore whistleblower protections for intelligence contractors through passage of SA 3711, the groups said.

View the letter and list of signers.