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Recent agency memo a reminder to fight for whistleblower protections

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2024 | Whistleblower Protection

A recent memo from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) got media attention recently when it appeared to violate federal whistleblower protections. The name of the memo is enough to give reason for concern: The Prohibited Disclosure of Unclassified, Sensitive Information Without Proper Authorization memo. It states that ATF employees could face penalties including discipline, termination from employment, and even criminal charges for disclosing agency information.

Although there are instances when agency information should remain private, federal workers also have the right to disclose information that relates to misconduct to entities that will investigate such allegations. The memo does not include information about when reporting is appropriate or about whistleblower protections.

Memo causes concern for two key reasons

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) called out the error and pointed at two factors that were cause for alarm.

  1. Exclusion of protections. He started by noting the unlawful failure to include not just the whistleblower protections noted above but also the anti-gag provision. This, paired with the focus on penalties for a violation make up the first concern.
  2. Timing. The second concern has to do with the timing of the release. ATF released the memo just days before Senator Grassley made a public appearance to call on the ATF to investigate alleged criminal misconduct within the agency.

Together, critics argue these factors intentionally reduced the risk that workers would speak out about wrongdoing at the ATF.

In response to the agency’s memo, Senator Grassley wrote letters to both the ATF and the United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General calling out the error and demanding the agency provide updated guidance that explains these protected rights. Upon receipt of the letter, the agency corrected the issue.

Memo provides lesson on the need to fight for whistleblower protections

Unfortunately, such moves to stimy the rights of those working within the federal government are not uncommon. We have discussed case after case of federal workers facing similar issues in previous posts. It is important that federal workers who are taking the brave step to hold those who misuse government funds accountable know their whistleblower rights are there to protect them from illegal retaliation.

Yet, adverse employment actions following a report of fraud, mismanagement, abuse of authority, or other violations of the law within the federal sector continue to occur. Those who are the victim of a demotion, termination, or other adverse employment action after making such a report have rights. These cases are not always easy to navigate, but you do not have to go through the process on your own. You can seek legal counsel experienced in this specialized area of law to advocate for your interests and better ensure your rights are protected throughout the process.


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