Whistleblower Protection

What are whistleblowers protected from?

Federal law prohibits governmental personnel from retaliating against a federal employee who acts as a whistleblower by reporting suspected waste, fraud or abuse to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Under the Federal law against prohibited personnel practices, agency officials may not “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).

What is Whistleblower Retaliation?

Whistleblower Retaliation is personnel action in response to a protected disclosure of information and includes actions that could adversely affect the whistleblower, such as:

  • 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

What Types of Disclosures are Protected?

Disclosures of information by a federal employee, former employee, or applicant for employment are protected if the individual reasonably believes the disclosure evidences any of the following:

  • A violation of law, rule, or regulation
  • Gross mismanagement
  • Gross waste of funds
  • A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
  • 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).

Where Can You Report a Whistleblower Complaint or Complaint of Whistleblower Retaliation?

Federal employees have many lawful options for reporting whistleblower complaints, including to management officials, the OIG, and the Office of Special Counsel (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, while complaints of reprisal against contractor employees can be reported to the OIG.

What Is the Office of Special Counsel?

The OSC is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency with the responsibility to receive, investigate, and prosecute allegations of whistleblower retaliation by federal employees. Unlike the OIG, the OSC has authority to seek corrective action from the FTC 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. Click here for more information on the OSC.

Where Can I Find Additional Information?

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.

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.

The following provisions are controlling in cases of any conflict with the agency non-disclosure policy, form, or agreement:

  • 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)).