The Office of Inspector General (OIG) is committed to protecting the rights of individuals who complain, cooperate, disclose information, or make protected disclosures (i.e., whistleblowers).Covered individuals include federal employees, former employees, applicants for employment, and contractor employees.
Disclosures of information by a federal employee, former employee, or applicant for employment are protected if the individual reasonably believes the disclosure evidences: a violation of law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement; gross waste of funds; a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or an abuse of authority.
Disclosures of information by a contractor employee are protected if the disclosure involves a substantial violation of law related to a contract (including the competition for, or negotiation of, a contract).
Federal law prohibits governmental personnel from retaliating against a federal employee who acts as a whistleblower by making a covered disclosure to the OIG. It is a prohibited personnel practice for agency officials to “take or fail to take, or threaten to take or fail to take, a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant for employment” because the person has disclosed information which he or she reasonably believes is evidence of (1) a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or (2) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, so long as the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law or Executive Order.
Federal law also prohibits government contractors from discharging, demoting or otherwise discriminating against their employees as reprisal for disclosing information to an authorized FTC official (including management officials or the OIG), an authorized Department of Justice (DOJ) official, or a Member of Congress relating to a substantial violation of law related to a contract (including the competition for, or negotiation of, a contract).
Examples of whistleblower retaliation/reprisal can include:
- A non-promotion
- A disciplinary action
- A detail, transfer or reassignment
- An unfavorable performance evaluation
- A decision concerning pay, benefits or awards
- A significant change in duties, responsibilities or working conditions
REPORTING WHISTLEBLOWER & RETALIATION/ REPRISAL COMPLAINTS
Federal employees have many lawful options for reporting whistleblower complaints, including to management officials, the OIG, and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The OSC is an independent federal investigative agency with the responsibility to receive, transmit to the appropriate agency for investigation, and refer for criminal prosecution whistleblower complaints by federal employees. Click here for more information on the OSC.
Contractor employees may report whistleblower complaints to an authorized FTC official (including management officials or the OIG), an authorized DOJ official, or a Member of Congress. For disclosures involving classified national security information or other information protected from public release by law, whistleblowers must use confidential channels such as the OIG.
Complaints of retaliation against federal employees can be reported to the OIG, OSC, or any other employee designated by the agency head to receive such disclosures The OSC has distinct enforcement authority and can seek corrective action from the FTC for substantiated violations by filing a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”) to enforce corrective action for the whistleblower, and to initiate disciplinary action against the individual responsible for the retaliation. Corrective action might include ordering a promotion, cancelling a disciplinary action, payment of back pay, compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees.
Complaints of reprisal against contractor employees can be reported to the OIG.
DISCLOSURES INVOLVING CLASSIFIED INFORMATION/PROGRAMS
Employees are reminded that reporting evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse involving classified information or classified programs must continue to be made consistent with established rules and procedures designed to protect classified information as follows:
- Executive Order 13526;
- Section 7211 of Title 5, United States Code (governing disclosures to Congress);
- Section 1034 of Title 10, United States Code, as amended by the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (governing disclosure to Congress by members of the military);
- Section 2302(b)(8) of Title 5, United States Code, as amended by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (governing disclosures of illegality, waste, fraud, abuse or public health or safety threats);
- Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (50 U.S.C. 421 et seq.) (governing disclosures that could expose confidential Government agents);
- The statutes which protect against disclosure that may compromise the national security, including sections 641, 793, 794, 798, and 952, of title 18, United States Code; and
- Section 4(b) of the Subversive Activities Act of 1950 (50 U.S.C. 783(b)).
NOTICE CONCERNING NONDISCLOSURE POLICIES, FORMS, OR AGREEMENTS WITH THE FTC
This serves as notice that, pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, the statement below applies to every nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement (hereafter collectively referred to as “NDAs”) used by the Federal Trade Commission with current or former federal employees, including NDAs that were in effect before the Act's effective date of December 27, 2012:
"These provisions are consistent with and do not supersede, conflict with, or otherwise alter the employee obligations, rights, or liabilities created by existing statute or Executive order relating to (1) classified information, (2) communications to Congress, (3) the reporting to an Inspector General of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or (4) any other whistleblower protection. The definitions, requirements, obligations, rights, sanctions, and liabilities created by controlling Executive orders and statutory provisions are incorporated into this nondisclosure policy, form or agreement and are controlling."
The Executive orders and statutory provisions listed in the “Disclosures Involving Classified Information/Programs” section above are controlling in the case of a conflict with any agency NDA policy, form, or agreement.
The FTC provides annual notice to staff to ensure that all employees are aware of their whistleblower rights and the safeguards in place to protect them. The notice further provides information on the fourteen prohibited personnel practices. The most recent notice is available here: Annual Notice. Additional educational resources are available on the OSC website, including posters that address Whistleblowing, Whistleblower Retaliation, Prohibited Personnel Practices, and The Hatch Act.