Washington, DC — In a sharp departure from policies of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Department of Defense has unveiled new rules to better protect both uniformed and civilian employees from retaliation for reporting wrongdoing, according to an agency directive posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In certain respects, the new rules, which go into immediate effect, are stronger than existing protections for non-Defense civil servants.
In a Department of Defense (DOD) Directive dated July 23, 2007, Deputy Secretary Gordon England mandates a series of procedural and substantive safeguards for agency whistleblowers, including:
- Punishment for officers or civilian supervisors found to have restrained or reprised against whistleblowers. Regulations are being prepared to make whistleblower retaliation explicitly punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as an act of insubordination;
- Mandatory investigations of whistleblower complaints by service inspector general offices within 180 days. The rules provide for oversight of all such investigations by the DOD Inspector General. In addition, any decision flowing from these investigations may be appealed to the Secretary of Defense; and
- Explicitly extending whistleblower protection regulations to cover disclosures made within the military chain-of-command, as well as disclosures made to Congress or inspector generals. Under current law, non-DOD civil servants are not protected for whistleblower disclosures made within their chains-of-command, although legislation pending in both houses of Congress would extend coverage to these intra-agency reports.
In cases ranging from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to extensive contractor fraud, the Iraq conflict has heightened the role of military whistleblowers. Unlike former Secretary Rumsfeld who dismissed the role of whistleblowers, Secretary Robert Gates appears to be much more concerned about receiving unvarnished information from the field, as illustrated by his handling of the Walter Reed Hospital situation in which the Secretary of the Army and the base commanders were relieved of their duties.
“Secretary Gates deserves congratulations for taking decisive steps to improve accountability within our military services,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “This is a crucial time for our people on the front lines to know that telling the truth is expected and suppressing the truth will not be tolerated.”
Ironically, Secretary Gates is strengthening safeguards, such as the ability to report problems to supervisors free from the fear of reprisal, which the Justice Department is opposing in Congress in the form of legislation reforming the Whistleblower Protection Act.
“In some very important ways, Secretary Gates is providing for stronger protections for Defense employees than exist presently for the civilians working inside other federal agencies,” Ruch added. “If this level of openness can be encouraged within our military branches, surely it can be extended to civilian agencies without impeding the efficient administration of government.”