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Whistleblowers must be careful with classified materials

Whistleblowers have been in the news a lot of late. Some have received ongoing national attention. Others have seen their cases resolved with almost no fanfare. Some of these whistleblower cases have highlighted the handling of classified materials.

One of these cases involved a would-be whistleblower in the Air Force. As FedSmith.com recently reported, the whistleblower was removed from his position after sending classified materials to several agencies, public officials and media outlets.

Doesnt federal law protect whistleblowers?

Whistleblowers are generally entitled to different protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act. When these employees call out governmental abuses or wrongdoing, the law protects them from retaliation such as:

  • Firing
  • Demotion
  • Lack of advancement
  • Undesirable reassignments

However, these protections only gain full strength when the whistleblower takes all the proper steps.

Whistleblowers need to know the rules

The Air Force whistleblower from the FedSmith.com report got himself in trouble because he didn’t follow the rules for classified materials. When he appealed his case to the Merit Systems Protection Board and appeals court, they ruled against him.

As they pointed out, the law restricts the release of sensitive materials. The employee should have reported his concerns to the Inspector General or the Special Counsel.

The truth is that there’s more than one whistleblower law. There are multiple laws and executive orders that address federal whistleblowers. While most are covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act, members of the intelligence community must follow the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. The Department of Justice hosts a list of the other laws and executive orders that apply to whistleblowers with classified information.

Protection is an earned right

The law protects whistleblowers, but only those who follow the rules. Potential whistleblowers want to make sure they have solid counsel before they file their complaints. Then, if they face retaliation later, they can better argue for the protections they’re due.

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