Recently-appointed Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz appointed a new Whistleblower Ombudsperson within the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Robert Storch, an experienced federal prosecutor, will fill the newly-created position. The announcement indicated that this is the first such position in the federal government.
The OIG announcement of the new position indicates that this position will be responsible for:
training and educating employees within the Department about the role and importance of whistleblowers in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the Department’s operations as well as their legal rights and protections against retaliation. The OIG Whistleblower Ombudsperson also will be responsible for alerting Department officials and managers to the possible repercussions of retaliation against those who make protected disclosures.”
The focus on retaliation, and likely the appointment itself, is the result of Congressional pressure occurring during hearings, reports, and correspondences pertaining to the DOJ’s failed Operation Fast & Furious, and specifically the manner in which two whistleblowers were treated. For example, a June 29, 2012 letter to Inspector General Horowitz from Senator Charles Grassley (Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee) and Congressman Darrell Issa (Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) included the following:
We just learned that ATF senior management placed two of the main whistleblowers who have testified before Congress about fast & Furious under the supervision of someone who vowed to retaliate against them. … Scot Thomasson was serving as Chief of ATF’s Public affairs Division. According to a direct eyewitness account, shortly after the allegations became public, he stated, ‘We need to get whatever dirt we can on these guys [the whistleblowers] and take them down.’ This information was made public on May 3, 2012 in the House Oversight and Government reform Committee’s memorandum in its draft contempt report. Not included in the report is more explicit language. Thomasson was also allegedly heard to have said: ‘All these whistleblowers have axes to grind. AFT needs to f—k these guys.’ When asked if the whistleblower allegations were true, Thomasson purported said he didn’t know and didn’t care.”
Independence of any whistleblower reporting system is necessary to help (i) ensure that whistleblowers are actually willing to report what they know, and (ii) protect their organizations from retaliation allegations.