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Investing in Watchdogs: More Bang for Your Buck

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A small, independent federal investigative agency that yields enormous returns to taxpayers needs more resources. When Congress passed the landmark Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) in November, expanding protections for federal employees who blow the whistle on government waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality, Congress also expanded the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) role and responsibilities. As a government watchdog tasked with protecting whistleblowers, the OSC is already experiencing a dramatically increasing caseload.

But the WPEA was passed long after the original budget requests were made, and the current budgeted amount for the OSC for Fiscal Year 2013 does not reflect OSC’s expanded role under these new whistleblower reforms.

Yesterday, the Project On Government Oversight and our partners sent a letter urging House and Senate appropriators to provide the OSC with the additional funding they need to implement the new law. The WPEA is likely to result in a greater number of whistleblowers coming forward—which means a real need for increased OSC personnel and resources. The letter outlines five key ways that the new law will impact OSC’s workload:

  • WPEA made changes to legal standards in the whistleblower law, which will increase the number of cases in which OSC conducts full investigations.
  • WPEA clarified and added to the personnel practices that are prohibited in response to disclosures of wrongdoing, and therefore can be investigated by the OSC.
  • WPEA expanded OSC’s jurisdiction by extending protections to over 50,000 passenger and baggage screeners working for the Transportation Security Administration.
  • WPEA reversed court decisions that had undermined the law. To defend and preserve the intent of Congress, the OSC may have to pursue more litigation, including more formal disciplinary action cases aimed at deterring prohibited personnel practices.
Office of Special Counsel

Even prior to passage of the new law, OSC’s caseload was already growing (reaching an all-time high of 4,800 cases in FY 2012). The Congressional Budget Office estimated that fully implementing the WPEA would require the OSC and the Merit Systems Protection Board to spend about $2 million a year to hire additional staff to take on additional cases. This landmark reform will not amount to much if Congress fails to fund it.

In today’s fiscal environment, it is important to recognize that investing in government watchdogs is markedly different from other forms of government spending increases. OSC yields huge cost savings for taxpayers by stopping wasteful practices whistleblowers uncover, shifting agency policies based on the findings of their investigations, and providing vital assistance for inspectors general. So in addition to the immediate benefits from initial investigations, the OSC also spurs systemic policy changes that yield invaluable, long-term savings. This is the investment that keeps on giving.

The OSC also deserves a huge pat on the back for a 52 percent increase in productivity since FY 2008. And last year the OSC set an agency record for favorable actions on behalf of federal employees–securing 159 favorable actions in prohibited personnel practices cases, an 89% increase from FY 2011. With this remarkable record and the extraordinary leadership of Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, we can expect that as disclosures continue to skyrocket and the caseload grows, OSC will handle their investigations and litigation with utmost efficiency and integrity.

Investing in watchdogs like the OSC helps the government better protect whistleblowers, defend public health and safety, root out waste, and save taxpayer dollars. Now is not the time to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

By: Suzanne Dershowitz
Public Policy Fellow, POGO

suzanne dershowitz At the time of publication Suzie Dershowitz was a public policy fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Whistleblower Protections

Related Content: Advocacy, Budget, Office of Special Counsel

Authors: Suzanne Dershowitz

Submitted by Whistleblower who got osc to act at: December 30, 2013
The osc is still a Trojan horse. I had a case Audrey fields Williams, who was just a complaint examiner at the time, turned down in 1995. The file a rebuttal to her rejection as I had a copy of my bosses diary that implicated the entire chain of command. The only reason the osc sought corrective action ( out of over 600 complaints mine was one of 5 the osc took corrective action) was that I had documentation of the management, legal, mediation, and osc ganging up. The osc then will take corrective action only if they look bad and are implicated or look very obviously look bad. Now Audrey fields Williams heads up the whole complaints examining unit. Do you really think a leopard can change it's spots? The osc has been a mess even back in the 1980s.I had so much evidence the osc even tried foot dragging and begged me to go to the MSPB. I let the osc know the document show it and as time went on more from the agency are coming forward with more evidence. In my case the more the osc dragged it's feet the more I got implicating the ganging up by multiple agencies in cahoots. Then the osc acted very quick when it was in their best interest not to be exposed for the Trojan horse that they are. Same people who are promoted to even higher positions to wreak even more nasty retaliation against the whistleblower than the agency being complained about.
Submitted by Wade at: March 5, 2013
I worked for an OIG that was "certified" by OSC as a Whistleblower protection agency. We even had an SES assigned as an AIGI for WB Protection. Yet when the IG went nuts and created a hostile work environment perpetuated by the same SES AIGI and the IG's Office of Counsel, the response was that it was "not illegal to be a bad boss." Consequently, the IG chased off nearly his entire special agent staff...after almost 2 years, the case went to OSC and now congress is looking into it. That being said, the three individuals are still there and nothing has been done...I don't expect anything to happen as I've been in gov't long enough to know things blow over...All the IG did was destroy his true power, the investigative staff...auditors perform reviews, but agents put people in jail. In any event, if you blow the whistle, be prepared for a long wait, hostile work environment, retribution, and no resolution...better yet, if you think about blowing the whistle, think again...
Submitted by elfin 42 at: March 3, 2013
Nothing is being done to protect the real whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and John Kiriakou, while the real criminals go free.
Submitted by doc at: March 2, 2013
I have to agree with David at least in part. I blew the whistle on contractor fraud and collusion between the contractor and the Director of my division. Although i did not get fired, I could not get promotions and my raises were much less than my fellows. Eventually I was forced to retire. The protections are not effective, because I believe the penalties are not enforced. Workers are not well informed on how to seek redress from the harassment that follows you, if you chose to be a whistle blower. I also witnessed similar situations in cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the agency. And as David mentioned the unions were unable to make a difference in stopping this type of issue in spite of the fact the EEOC is suppose to make this illegal.
Submitted by david at: February 28, 2013
the whistle blower protection act does not work,,i sttod up for a women being sexually harrassed by her boss an they fired me for it,,evan though the union said they couldnt,also the EEOC is a joke,,i work for a federal agency, that lied to the EEOC on evidance they submitted during an investigation, an the EEOC did nothing,,evan though they are suppose to protect employees from employers.

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