Issue Briefs

Following are portions of a recent report from the interagency council of inspectors general on the role IGs play regarding federal whistleblowers, including receiving and investigating disclosures, efforts to combat retaliation, and educational initiatives.

To conduct effective oversight of the federal government and its $4 trillion annual budget, it is critical that Inspectors General (IGs) receive information from insiders, who are often in the best position to identify and report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct. It is also critically important that IGs protect whistleblowers from unlawful retaliation so they continue to feel comfortable coming forward with allegations of wrongdoing.

Congress also has recognized the importance of whistleblowers to the work of the IG community and has taken steps to support OIG efforts to educate whistleblowers about their rights and protections. In 2018, Congress passed the “Whistleblower Protection Coordination Act,” which permanently reauthorized a Whistleblower Protection Coordinator (WPC) position in certain OIGs. The law further required CIGIE, in consultation with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a CIGIE member, to develop best practices for handling protected disclosures and enforcing whistleblower protection laws. CIGIE and OSC fulfill this mandate through regular meetings of a WPC working group, which discusses and identifies such best practices. To further educate the public and promote lawful disclosures of wrongdoing, CIGIE and OSC launched a web page at: www.Oversight.gov/Whistleblowers. The IG community continues to explore ways to encourage individuals to report waste, fraud, abuse, and gross mismanagement.

Using Oversight.gov, the public can now easily and quickly assess the ways in which individuals who blow the whistle contribute to OIG efforts to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of government programs. To illustrate the substantial contributions made by whistleblowers to the work of the IG community, we searched the 12,000 OIG reports available on Oversight.gov and identified many examples of OIG investigations, audits, and reviews initiated or advanced because of a whistleblower disclosure. We present a sample of these reports below. As these reports indicate, individuals who step forward to report on waste and misconduct provide valuable and critical assistance to OIGs in our oversight mission. To ensure that whistleblowers continue to provide information to our offices, it is critical that OIGs take steps to prevent unlawful retaliation from occurring in their agency.

In order to encourage whistleblowers to continue to come forward with evidence of wrongdoing, OIGs take proactive steps to educate agency employees about the importance of reporting waste, fraud, abuse, and gross mismanagement, and about laws that protect individuals for doing so. Additionally, OIGs protect whistleblowers by thoroughly investigating all retaliation claims, and transmitting our findings and recommendations in cases where we find retaliation, so that whistleblowers can be made whole and managers can be held accountable for violating whistleblower laws. The following summaries demonstrate recent OIG efforts to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and/or to prevent retaliatory acts on a systemic basis.

Congress also has recognized the importance of whistleblowers to the work of the IG community and has taken steps to support OIG efforts to educate on the importance of blowing the whistle and on the rights and protections provided to whistleblowers. In 2012, Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). In addition to strengthening whistleblower protections for federal workers, a 5-year pilot provision in the WPEA created a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman at certain OIGs who would be responsible for educating agency employees about whistleblower rights and protections, and their remedies for addressing unlawful retaliation.

The success of this pilot program prompted Congress to pass the Whistleblower Protection Coordination Act, which President Trump signed into law on June 25, 2018. The law permanently reauthorized the authority for a whistleblower protection role within OIGs and renamed the position from ombudsman to OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator (WPC). This legislative effort enjoyed widespread support from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, the IG community, OSC, and whistleblower advocates. For example, during a House hearing that considered the legislation, OSC noted that the pilot program “led to more collaboration and information sharing among the various Inspectors General and with OSC. Increased cooperation allows our related offices to share best practices for investigation techniques and training, and to identify and resolve issues quickly and effectively.”

In addition to permanently reauthorizing the OIG WPC role, the Whistleblower Protection Coordination Act required CIGIE, in consultation with the WPCs and OSC, to develop best practices for handling protected disclosures and enforcing whistleblower protection laws. CIGIE, the WPCs, and OSC fulfill this mandate through regular meetings of a WPC working group. The working group meets quarterly, is often joined by congressional and non-government stakeholders, and maintains a list serve to discuss approaches to education, outreach, and enforcement of whistleblower laws.

To further build on these efforts to educate employees and promote lawful disclosures of wrongdoing, CIGIE and OSC have launched a whistleblower protection web page at: www.Oversight.gov/Whistleblowers. The legal landscape for potential whistleblowers can be confusing, and the options available to individuals who believe they have been retaliated against depend on their specific place of employment. Recognizing this, the Oversight.gov/Whistleblowers page provides an interactive form to allow potential whistleblowers to identify the appropriate OIG, OSC, or other entity to make a protected disclosure or file a retaliation claim. The site also provides informational resources for individuals in various sectors, including government employees, government contractors and grantees, the military, and private-sector individuals.

CIGIE believes that these education and outreach efforts will help to ensure that whistleblowers are empowered to make lawful disclosures, and that these disclosures will continue to contribute to OIG efforts to cut waste and improve government programs.