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NSA inspector general calls for a 'robust whistleblower program'

Rob "It's a big federal government agency. It spends a lot of taxpayer dollars. And so, as a general matter, I think the public has a right to know how its funds are being spent," the National Security Agency's inspector general, Rob Storch, told NPR.

"I felt very strongly that this was a key function for an inspector general's office, to have a robust whistleblower program," he added.

He has already received 516 calls on the NSA OIG whistleblower hotline over a recent six-month period. The calls ranged from allegations of government contractor fraud to complaints that whistleblowers had been retaliated against.

How does that number compare with other federal agencies? It's hard to say because of the NSA's secretive nature. An author who has written four books on the agency has only been able to confirm that "somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000" people work there.

It's true that past whistleblowers haven't always been well received by the NSA. When Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was collecting a broad range of private information about U.S. citizens, for example, many saw him not as a whistleblower trying to rein in government abuses, but as a traitor. He resides in Russia, where he is protected from a U.S. charge of violating the Espionage Act.

One thing that has changed since then is that the NSA director no longer has authority to hire or fire the inspector general. Starting with Storch, the inspector general is now presidentially nominated subject to senate confirmation. This makes the position more independent.

Another is that more information is being made publicly available. In July, Storch released an unclassified version of the OIG's semiannual report. That report found several deficiencies in the NSA's use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that had potential to impact U.S. citizens' privacy. Recommendations are detailed in the classified version.

More recently, the NSA OIG launched a new website that includes both a whistleblower information page and a direct link to the whistleblower hotline.

In addition, Storch has invited watchdog groups to discuss their concerns about the agency. One, the Project on Government Oversight, said that it may be difficult to change the NSA's culture when it comes to whistleblowing.

"The fear of retaliation is real," said their spokesperson. "A lot of people don't want to go through all that, even if you ultimately prevail many months, or even years, down the road. It's a headache. It's a nightmare."

Whether you work at the NSA or another government agency, it's crucial to protect your rights when blowing the whistle. Consider having an employment law attorney familiar with federal whistleblowing evaluate your situation before you take any steps.

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