WASHINGTON, D.C.—The leaders of two major unions representing thousands of employees in the Department of Homeland Security called upon Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to withdraw a directive that would impair the ability of whistleblowers to bring their concerns to the American people.
Under the directive, employees of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are required to sign a secrecy pledge that forbids them from revealing unclassified information to the public. In the past, such required pledges almost always applied only to classified material. According to a letter sent to Secretary Ridge by John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the non-disclosure agreement demanded by DHS of its employees imposes “unprecedented restrictions and conditions on the free speech rights” of DHS workers. The form employees are required to sign also appears to allow the government unprecedented access to employees’ homes and personal belongings for searches that violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable search and seizure.”
“We strongly believe,” write Gage and Kelley, that the directive and the non-disclosure agreement employees are being made to sign “actually undermine our national security and the pubic interest.”
The letter sent to Secretary Ridge by Kelley and Gage is accompanied by a lengthy letter addressed to DHS General Counsel Joe Whitley by the general counsels of both unions, in which the lawyers detail the unconstitutionality of the directive and the non-disclosure agreement.
In their letter to Secretary Ridge, Kelley and Gage express their foremost concern about the chilling effect the directive and agreement will almost certainly have on employees’ ability to act in the public interest. “[A]ny DHS official or employee can simply stamp a document ‘for official use only,’” they explain, “thus subjecting any employee who might disclose the information for a legitimate public purpose to severe sanction.”
AFGE and NTEU represent more than 60,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security.