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Justice inspector general promises an ear for whistleblowers

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Wed August 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz says he will hire whistleblower ombudsman
  • Whistleblower information helped uncover alleged nepotism in hiring, said one official
  • Horowitz said new official will ensure complaints are promptly and thoroughly reviewed

Washington (CNN) -- ATF Whistleblowers played a key role in blowing the lid off the controversial Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking debacle.

Wednesday the Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced he will hire a whistleblower ombudsman to his staff, but did not indicate Operation Fast and Furious was a reason for the move. Horowitz said in his three months on the job he has "seen first-hand how whistleblowers have advanced the I.G.'s efforts to address wasteful and improper spending, improve the Department's operations, and protect the public's safety".

An official familiar with the decision said one recent example of helpful whistleblower information included alleged actions of repeated nepotism in hiring for the Justice Management Division -- information which was provided to Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Virginia. Another recent example was the frustration by ATF agents upset by government orders to allow illegally purchased guns to "walk" to Mexico in Fast and Furious. Those complaints were given to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a leading advocate for rights of whistleblowers.

In declaring he will appoint a seasoned attorney to be a whistleblower ombudsman, Horowitz said the new official will ensure complaints are promptly and thoroughly reviewed.

Grassley welcomed the move, calling it an "important first step." He has been leading congressional efforts to have ombudsmen appointed in all government inspector general offices.

Horowitz is believed to be in the final stages of writing his report on the entire Fast and Furious operation and the fallout from it. Attorney General Eric Holder has been awaiting the report before deciding what disciplinary actions to take against Justice and ATF employees.

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