OSC warns agencies of email monitoring restrictions

Monday - 6/25/2012, 9:52am EDT

Federal News Radio executive editor Jason Miller on Federal Drive

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The Office of Special Counsel is reminding agencies not to engage in email monitoring that could have a chilling effect on whistleblowers who report waste, fraud and abuse.

In a memo last week, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner urged agencies to evaluate their employee email monitoring policies.

"Although lawful agency monitoring of employees communications serves legitimate purposes, federal law also protects the ability of workers to exercise their legal rights to disclose wrongdoing without fear of retaliation, which is essential to good government," according to the memo.

Specifically, the memo warned against agency monitoring that targets protected disclosures to OSC and inspectors general. Such monitoring is "highly problematic" and could be seen as retaliation against a whistleblower, Lerner wrote.

Steven VanRoekel, federal chief information officer, and Boris Bershteyn, general counsel, forwarded the OSC memo to agencies. Their letter about the memo urged agencies to ensure monitoring policies "do not interfere with or chill employees' use of appropriate channels to disclose wrongdoing."

Earlier this year, six former employees of the Food and Drug Administration sued their former agency for monitoring their personal emails. The employees said the monitoring started after they had raised concerns about medical devices the FDA had approved.

In March, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked the Office of Management and Budget for details on agencies' email monitoring.

"Our investigation of FDA's surveillance of whistleblowers has given rise to a broader question about the policies and practices for electronic surveillance at other federal agencies," the lawmakers had written.

Federal News Radio's Jason Miller also discussed the White House memo on reducing paperwork.

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