By Lisa Rein and Ellen Nakashima
The Food and Drug Administration may have violated the federal law protecting whistleblowers by monitoring the personal e-mail of its own scientists, congressional investigators conclude in a report that calls the two-year spying operation “excessively intrusive.”
The findings, scheduled for release Wednesday by two top Republicans, suggest that the employees were monitored as part of an effort to retaliate against them for going public with their safety concerns about medical devices that the FDA was approving —not to uncover leaks of proprietary company information, as the agency has said.
The report, which caps a two-year probe, also criticizes the FDA for allowing lower-level officials to widen the surveillance from one suspected whistleblower to five colleagues without proper authorization or a clear policy on how long the monitoringcould go on. Computer security employees carrying out the operation were given no legal guidance on whether they should limit the information they were collecting, the report says.
“The FDA failed not only to manage the monitoring program responsibly, but also to consider any potential legal limits on its authority to conduct surveillance of its employees,” says the report, which was prepared by staff members for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-
Calif.), the House oversight panel’s chairman, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The report reveals new details about the spying carried out on scientists who had shared their concerns about excessive radiation in FDA-approved medical devices with each other, members of Congress, journalists, their attorneys and offices that investigate government wrongdoing.