Holding the Government Accountable

Watchdogs Publish More Information on Whistleblower Rights

Last week, POGO raised concerns that some federal watchdogs were not posting enough information online for federal employees who have questions about blowing the whistle.

We’re happy to report that a few watchdog offices are now taking steps to remedy the situation.

As of early last week, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had not posted any information online about its Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman, a position created by Congress in the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The day after our article was published, the OIG posted the information in a new page on its public website. The page helpfully identifies the ombudsman—who is in charge of educating agency employees about their whistleblower rights—provides dedicated contact information, and offers to arrange presentations for agency personnel.

In a letter sent to POGO last week, an OIG official explained that the office had previously provided information on whistleblower rights through an internal agency website.

“Because the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 requires OIGs to educate agency employees about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures and corresponding employee rights and remedies,” the official wrote, “we concentrated initial efforts on presenting related educational resources in an electronic venue developed and operated for agency employees—the agency’s intranet.” (Emphasis in original)

POGO wrote last week that posting this information on a public-facing page will make it easier for employees to access the ombudsman or educate themselves about whistleblower rights.

The OIG official also wanted to clarify that his office was not required to obtain certification from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for ensuring that employees are informed of their whistleblower rights. (Last week, we noted that USAID and its OIG were among the many offices that have not registered for or received certification, even though the White House instructed all executive branch agencies to get certified.)

“Although some OIGs have sought and received OSC certification, there is no legal requirement that OIGs do so because they are contemplated to be covered by their agencies’ certification,” the official explained. “We alerted USAID officials of their responsibility to obtain OSC certification several months ago and have been working to assist them in their efforts to comply with associated requirements.”

A USAID spokesperson did not respond to questions from POGO seeking more information on why the agency has not yet been able to get certified.

Another office that had been slow to publish its ombudsman page is the OIG at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On Friday, however, an OIG spokesperson told the Washington Examiner that his office is about to publish a “new whistleblower section” with “specific information about DHS-OIG’s whistleblower program, available services and contact information.”

As of this writing, the new section is still not available online, but the OIG’s spokesperson told POGO it will be going live soon. He said the OIG’s Office of Integrity and Quality Oversight, which manages the whistleblower program, will also be upgrading the watchdog’s hotline and complaint intake form. Sandra Hackworth, an official in the integrity and quality office, has been designated as the whistleblower ombudsman, the spokesperson told POGO.

Finally, when we wrote our post last week, it was unclear whether the OIG at the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) had even named a whistleblower ombudsman. Today we were able to reach an OIG representative who told POGO that Patricia Marshall has been designated as the office’s ombudsman. As of this writing, however, there is still no information about the ombudsman or whistleblower rights available on the OIG’s website.