At their worst, internal government channels are seen by some employees as traps that help management target those they deem to be “disloyal” employees.

A whistleblower advocacy group has found reluctance by federal employees to use formal channels that some agencies provide for employees to challenge proposed or ongoing policies.

“Many federal employees say these channels are a waste of time, and that they fear retaliation. Some have said they fear or have faced reprisal from agency management for using them; there are also some employees who have used the channels who say they were not retaliated against. There appear to be few public success stories where use of dissent channels led to change, or factored into a serious reconsideration of policies,” the Project on Government Oversight said.


The group reviewed dissent channels at six agencies, including the State Department and several science-oriented agencies and found that most “are used infrequently. Across presidential administrations, irrespective of political party, and at agencies across the government these channels are often viewed as ineffectual, and many career employees with access to a dissent channel still fear retaliation for using it.”

It found that such channels differ widely. For example, some exist mainly to make decision-makers aware that dissenting opinions exist, while others provide for formal consideration and response, with some even allowing appeals of those responses. Also differing is who can use them, the range of topics that can be raised through them and the degree to which agencies promote them.

“At their best, the channels encourage constructive dissent, and there is evidence that at times they have helped agencies craft more effective policies or reassess them . . . At their worst, internal government channels are seen by some employees as traps that help management target those they deem to be “disloyal” employees,” it added, citing several lawsuits in which employees alleged they were retaliated against for using the dissent channel.

“Retaliation and the fear of being seen as disloyal are powerful disincentives to dissent, and need to be countered with strong protections and, ideally, positive incentives for using the channels correctly, such as awards,” it said.

Federal Whistleblowers Fired 10 Times Normal Rate, GAO Finds

Court Backs Narrow Reading of Whistleblower Protections

Disclosures Must Be Specific to Qualify as Whistleblowing, Court Rules

Whistleblower Protection
A federal employee or applicant for employment engages in whistleblowing when the individual discloses to the Special Counsel or an Inspector General or comparable agency official (or to others, except when disclosure is barred by law or by executive order to avoid harm to the national defense or foreign affairs) information which the individual reasonably believes evidences the following types of wrongdoing:

-a violation of law, rule, or regulation;
-gross mismanagement;
-a gross waste of funds;
-an abuse of authority; or
-a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

From: Appeals and Procedures at ask.FEDweek.com

2020 Federal Employees Handbook