DOJ’s Inspector General Says More Subpoena Power Needed to Protect Whistleblowers

January 28, 2020 by Dan McCue
The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice’s chief internal investigator told a House panel on Tuesday that he and his colleagues across federal departments need more subpoena power to help protect whistleblowers alleging fraud and other malfeasance.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz offered that assessment in an appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform subcommittee on government operations.

Horowitz, who is also chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, described what he called “testimonial subpoena authority” one of that group’s “primary legislative priorities.”

“Without testimonial subpoena authority, an employee’s resignation or retirement can substantially hamper an IG audit, investigation, or other review into matters pertaining to that individual’s former responsibilities, including any action taken against a whistleblower,” he said.

“My office and others throughout the IG community continue to encounter situations where not having this authority results in our inability to obtain important and relevant information from former employees in connection with our whistleblower investigations,” he said.

“Our efforts to promote accountability and deter future misconduct are hampered by our inability to receive testimony from former employees.” 

Horowitz noted that in the 40 years since the passage of the Inspector General Act in 1978, information provided by whistleblowers has played a central role in the ability of Inspectors General to conduct non-partisan, independent oversight of federal programs and operations.

“Accordingly,” he said, “one of my highest priorities, and a critical CIGIE initiative, has been to educate federal employees about the importance of whistleblowing, and to ensure that those who blow the whistle are protected from retaliation.

“The Inspector General community believes that individuals who bring information about waste, fraud, abuse, and gross mismanagement to our offices should be lauded for working within the laws, rules, and regulations that have long existed to encourage and protect whistleblowers,” he said.

Toward that end, CIGIE worked with the Office of Special Counsel to launch a new whistleblower protection web page.

The page provides an interactive form to assist potential whistleblowers in determining where to make a protected disclosure or file a retaliation claim – to an OIG, the OSC, or some other entity.

The site also provides informational resources for individuals in various sectors, including government employees, government contractors and grantees, those in the military, and private-sector individuals. 

Returning to the subject of increasing the subpoena power of Inspectors General, Horowitz said he and his counterparts in government have a responsibility to conduct a thorough and independent assessment of the facts.

“OIG whistleblower investigations not only seek justice on behalf of individual whistleblowers but also seek to deter potential future reprisals and promote accountability for those who have retaliated or engaged in other misconduct,” he said.

“To effectively conduct such investigations, OIGs must have access to all relevant testimony and witnesses, including individuals who may resign or retire during an OIG reprisal investigation,” he said.

Currently only the Department of Defense OIG has the authority to compel testimony from former agency employees in such investigations. Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act, S. 3177, which would grant the Department of Veterans Affairs OIG similar subpoena authority.

Horowitz said he’d like Congress to give these powers to all Inspectors General.

“The IG community understands the potential concerns with granting OIGs such an authority. Accordingly, we support incorporating controls to ensure this authority is exercised properly,” he said.

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