Senate lawmakers are calling for stronger employee protections at the Small Business Administration after a government report found agency managers had tracked emails from a staff whistleblower.
The agency says it has already taken steps to limit access by managers to employee email.
According to the SBA Inspector General, managers in the agency's Office of Disaster Assistance last year monitored emails from a staffer who served as a confidential source for the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The employee had recently submitted anonymous testimony for a committee hearing, the report said.
"I am extremely concerned that the SBA's unchecked power to arbitrarily monitor its employees' emails will discourage potential whistleblowers from reporting agency misconduct to Congress," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the committee chairman, said in a statement on Friday.
In a letter to SBA Administrator Steven Preston, Kerry said monitoring employee emails prevented them from speaking out and undermined the committee's oversight role. He said the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 gives federal agency employees the right to provide information to congressional committees without interference.
SBA spokesperson Mike Stamler said the agency had implemented a policy to protect employee emails in wake of the inspector general's report back in December. Stamler said he didn't know the details of the case mentioned in the report.
The Federal Employee Protection of Disclosure Act, which was approved unanimously by the Senate last year, is currently before the House.