Senate Intel Committee Passes Measure to Protect Whistleblowers

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to advance the Damon Paul Nelson and Matthew Young Pollard Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018, 2019 and 2020, which includes additional protections for whistleblowers in intelligence agencies. The move has been aimed at reducing public leaks of classified information through protecting whistleblowers from reprisal.

Under section 613 of the legislation, Senior Executive Agents must work in coordination with the inspector general of the intelligence community to report to Congress the continuous ways intelligence agencies are monitoring and protecting whistleblower communications.

Individuals within the whistleblower protection community have praised the legislation.

“It comes down to not creating the proper incentive for whistleblowers to use internal channels in the intelligence community,” said Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy at the Project on Government Oversight, to the Federal Times.

However, some have expressed concern with giving the inspector general too much power to oversee whistleblower protections.

“Power shouldn’t lay wholly with the IGs,” said Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst at the Government Accountability Project, also to Federal Times. "There should be some mechanism to keep the IGs in check or to go away from the IGs into either a judicial or quasi-judicial system.”

McCullough noted that the most effective way to incentivize whistleblowers to come forward is through strengthening internal channels as much as possible so whistleblowers are safe from reprisal.

The passage of this legislation through committee comes days after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report informing Congress of ways they can better handle whistleblower disclosures internally. The GAO recommended better documentation and communication strategies for congressional offices and agencies to ensure whistleblower safety and effective use of disclosures.

The Intelligence Authorization Act, which passed unanimously through committee, also includes provisions for securing elections from foreign interference, improving the security clearance process, protecting government technology supply chains, advancing the intelligence community workforce, and bolstering recruitment and retention of science, technology, engineering, and math professionals.

Lead sponsor and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) noted in a committee press release, “This legislation is vital for countering the growing threats posed by hostile foreign actors, including Russia, China, and Iran, and for strengthening our nation’s election security. It also invests in the future of the Intelligence Community by improving personnel retention and recruitment, ensuring we have the best and brightest working to keep America safe. The men and women of the IC bear a weighty responsibility. They need the right resources and proper oversight to carry out their jobs effectively. This year’s IAA provides that, and I look forward to it becoming law.”

Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) also touted some top achievements in the bill, saying, “I am especially happy that this year’s bill contains a provision that will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave to IC personnel, including adoptive and foster parents, matching what many private sector companies are already providing. I am also proud of the numerous other provisions aimed at deterring foreign influence in our elections, tackling the technological threats from China as the U.S. and other nations move to 5G communications, revamping our outdated security clearance process, and enabling the IC to exchange talent with the private sector.”

The bill is expected to be voted on by the full Senate in the coming weeks.

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