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Holding the Government Accountable

Budget Breakdown: Protecting Whistleblowers

Office of Special Counsel

By the numbers: FY2011 (actual): $18 million | FY2012 (est.): $19 million | FY2013 (request): $19 million

Analysis: Time and time again, federal employees have saved taxpayer dollars by blowing the whistle on wasteful spending practices within their departments and agencies. Federal whistleblowers also protect our interests by exposing threats to public health and safety.

But who protects these federal employees when they face retaliation for blowing the whistle? That’s where the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) steps in. OSC investigates allegations of whistleblower reprisal, seeks corrective action for whistleblowers who have suffered retaliation, and recommends disciplinary action against the retaliators.

Although the OSC reached an all-time low under former Special Counsel Scott Bloch, there have been encouraging signs of the agency’s revitalization under the current Special Counsel, Carolyn Lerner. In recent months, Lerner’s OSC has:

  • Pushed the Air Force to discipline officials for retaliating against whistleblowers who disclosed that Port Mortuary was mishandling the body parts of service members killed in Afghanistan;
  • Moved to halt the suspension of Franz Gayl, a Marine Corps whistleblower who exposed the Department of Defense’s (DoD) delays in providing troops with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs);
  • Provided ongoing support to Diem Thi Le, who blew the whistle on flawed audits at the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA);
  • Obtained a settlement between the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and a whistleblower who exposed gross mismanagement by an IRS contractor; and
  • Filed an amicus brief in support of former federal air marshal Robert Maclean, who disclosed a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plan to reduce air marshal coverage of international and long-distance commercial flights at a time when the government was on heightened alert for a possible hijacking plot.

Unfortunately, the “agency’s caseload is growing more than four times faster than its budget,” according to an FY2011 performance report. OSC is requesting a modest appropriation of $18.7 million for FY2013—slightly less than its request from the previous year.

As Congress reviews the Administration’s request, it should keep in mind that OSC—like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs)—provides a substantial return on taxpayers’ investment:

Four cases alone in just the past few years restored well over $11 million to the government. This amount, while substantial, grossly understates the financial benefit OSC brings to the government.

The real measure of OSC’s financial contribution is prophylactic: By providing a safe channel for whistleblower disclosures, OSC regularly reins in waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, and threats to public health and safety that pose the very real risk of catastrophic harm to the public, and huge remedial and liability costs for the government.