If the administration says it is in favor of protecting whistleblowers but individual agencies issue instruction that appear to discourage whistleblowing, federal employees could have doubts about whether it is safe to blow the whistle on wrong-doing. By backing away from any implication that his videotaped instructions were meant to discourage whistleblowing, Acting Director Jones appears to be trying to resolve the conflict.
The head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has backed away from videotaped comments warning employees of “consequences” if they reported wrongdoing outside their chain of command.
Acting Director B. Todd Jones’ comments, first reported by the Washington Guardian earlier this month, led to an outcry in Congress and among whistleblower advocates, who feared his July videotaped message might chill whistleblowers from coming forward in the aftermath of the agency’s Fast and Furious scandal.
“ATF orders requiring all employees to report through the chain of command as to daily duties and responsibilities do not override the Whistleblower Protection Act,” Jones wrote in a memo distributed to all employees clarifying his remarks.
Jones added his earlier videotaped message wasn’t intended to discourage workers from reporting wrongdoing or to suggest they’d be punished for making protected whistleblower disclosures.
In a separate letter to Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, the acting director, who also serves as U.S. attorney in Minnesota, clarified his remarks. Grassley, R-Iowa., whose investigation uncovered the bungled gun operation known as Fast and Furious, raised concerns Jones was trying to keep his workers from going to Congress with allegations.
“At no time was I attempting to discourage, dissuade or prevent employees from making protected disclosures,” Jones wrote Grassley.
<iframe src="http://telldc.com/widget.php?parent_postid=11503&foo=1"></iframe>A spokeswoman for the Iowa Republican welcomed Jones' new statement. Grassley "appreciates the clarification about whistleblowers. He still thinks the original message lacked context," Jill Gerber told the Washington Guardian.
The 3 minute, 22 second videotape that stirred the controversy was the last of eight “Changecasts” that Jones distributed to ATF employees in recent weeks to describe how he planned to run the agency, improve morale and instill a new culture in the aftermath of one of the agency's worst scandals.
“Choices and consequences means simply that if you make poor choices, that if you don’t abide by the rules, that if you don’t respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences,” Jones told the employees in a video distributed July 9 by email and closed-circuit TV.
Fast and Furious is the code name given to a federal firearms trafficking operation in Arizona in 2009-10 that let more than 1,700 semiautomatic weapons flow into the hands of straw-buyers for Mexican drug gangs with the goal of building a bigger case against the cartels.
The ATF is the acronym for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal law enforcement agency that combats illegal gun trafficking.
Executive Privilege is a constitutional doctrine made famous during Watergate that holds that a president is entitled to receive confidential advice from his staff without having to disclose it to Congress or the courts.