Whistleblowers play a critical role in keeping our Government honest, efficient, and accountable. Recognizing whistleblowers’ important role, Federal law provides strong protections for them. The protections and remedies for these whistleblowers vary depending on whether the individual is a Federal employee or an employee of a Federal contractor, subcontractor, grantee, or subgrantee.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) for both Federal employees and employees of Federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees and subgrantees.
Information for Federal employees
Overview of the WPA - The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) (5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8)) protects Federal employees or applicants for Federal employment from retaliation for making protected disclosures. The WPA also provides penalties for supervisors who retaliate against Whistleblowers.
A disclosure is protected under the WPA if the employee discloses information the employee reasonably believes to be evidence of:
- a violation of any 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.
In general, a Federal employee may make a protected disclosure to anyone, including non-governmental audiences, unless the information is classified or specifically prohibited by law from release. Options for making a protected disclosure include:
- Informing a supervisor or someone higher up in management,
- Submitting a complaint to the OIG by emailing the OIG at firstname.lastname@example.org,
- Filing a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
Yes, you may request that the OIG keep your identity confidential. An OIG is prohibited from disclosing an employee's identity without the employee's consent unless the OIG determines that disclosure is unavoidable or is compelled by a court order.
The WPA makes it unlawful for an employee’s (or applicant for employment) protected disclosure to influence the employer to “take or fail to take, or threaten to take or fail to take, a personnel action with respect to [the] employee or applicant for employment.” A personnel action is broadly defined to include ratings, details, promotions, demotions, termination, access to training, etc.
You may submit a retaliation complaint to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) via their website or to the OIG by emailing us at email@example.com.
OSC is the entity tasked by Congress to investigate whistleblower retaliation against Federal employees. OSC has the authority to demand the agency undo any retaliation, compensate the employee who suffered reprisal, and take action against the retaliating supervisor. OSC also can initiate an action against the agency if it refuses to undo the reprisal.
If you submit your complaint to the OIG, we will review it and let you know whether we will investigate it or refer it to OSC or elsewhere.
Non-Federal employees (contractors, subcontractors)
Employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and subgrantees (the “employees”) are often in the best position to spot waste, fraud, and abuse related to federal contracts and grants. Recognizing the critical role these employees play in shedding light on waste, fraud, and abuse in federal contracts and grants, Federal law protects these employees from retaliation for making protected disclosures. See 41 U.S.C. § 4712.
Employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and sub-grantees, as well as personal service contractors for the Federal government.
For a disclosure to constitute a “protected disclosure”, employees of Federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and sub-grantees, as well as personal service contractors, must make the disclosure to one of the following entities:
- An inspector general;
- The Government Accountability Office;
- Members of Congress or representatives of Congressional committees;
- A Federal employee responsible for contract or grant oversight or management;
- An authorized official of the Department of Justice or other law enforcement agency;
- A court or grand jury; or
- A manager or other employee of the contractor, subcontractor, grantee, or subgrantee who has responsibility for investigating, discovering, or addressing misconduct.
To be protected, the disclosure must include information that the employee reasonably believes is evidence of:
- Gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant;
- Waste of Federal funds;
- Abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant;
- Substantial and specific danger to public health and safety; or
- A violation of any law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract or grant.
Federal law, 41 U.S.C. § 4712, prohibits Federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees and subgrantees, as well as personal services contractors for the Federal government, from discharging, demoting, or otherwise discriminating against their employees for making protected disclosures.
An employee of a Federal contractor, subcontractor, grantee, or subgrantee, or personal services contractor for the Federal government, alleging whistleblower retaliation for making a protected disclosure related to the FTC or FTC contracts may submit a complaint to the OIG by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to describe the disclosure in detail, including when and to whom it was made, and the retaliation experienced, including when it began.
Upon receiving a complaint, the OIG will conduct an initial review to determine whether, if true, the complained of action would constitute whistleblower retaliation. If so, the OIG must investigate the complaint within 180 days, but may request additional time. The OIG then must forward its finding to the FTC, which has 30 days to determine whether there was retaliation and, if so, order the employer to remedy the retaliation. If the employer does not comply, the agency may seek a court order forcing the employer to do so.
If the FTC denies relief or if no action has been taken within 210 days of receipt of the complaint (or 30 days following expiration of any extension agreed to between OIG and the complainant), the complainant may bring an action in an appropriate U.S. district court against his or her employer as described in 41 U.S.C. § 4712.
Notice related to non-disclosure agreements
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 prohibits agencies from issuing or enforcing nondisclosure agreements, policies, or forms against current or former employees that do not contain the following statement:
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 agreement and are controlling.
The controlling Executive Orders and statutory provisions in the event of any conflict with a non-disclosure policy, form, or agreement include:
- The Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8), as amended (governing disclosures of violations of law, waste, fraud, abuse or public health or safety threats);
- 5 U.S.C. § 7211 (governing disclosures to Congress);
- 10 U.S.C. § 1034, as amended by the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (governing disclosures to Congress by members of the military);
- The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, 50 U.S.C. § 421, et seq., (governing disclosures that could expose confidential government agents);
- The Subversive Activities Act of 1950, 50 U.S.C. § 783(b);
- The statutes which protect against disclosures that may compromise the national security, including sections 641, 793, 794, 798, and 952, of title 18, United States Code; and
- Executive Order No. 13526.