The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is proud to announce our latest victory for whistleblower protections: in direct response to a letter we sent, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) released two memos calling on all federal agencies to ensure their communication monitoring policies and non-disclosure agreements do not interfere with or discourage lawful whistleblower disclosures. OSC has also taken down posters at the Department of Energy that potentially violated the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
The posters, seen at left, urge staff to “Report Possible Insider Threat Indicators,” but don’t clarify that this does not override federal employees’ rights to blow the whistle. POGO was particularly concerned by the possibility that these posters could chill legitimate whistleblowing, even inadvertently. POGO and others have repeatedly raised the need to clearly define the differences between insider threats and whistleblowers.
As soon as POGO learned of these posters in August, we sent a letter to the Acting Special Counsel requesting an investigation. Yesterday, we received official confirmation that our complaint led directly to OSC taking action at the Energy Department to address our concerns.
The two memos released by OSC are significant steps forward and will help educate federal agencies about whistleblower protections at a time when the Trump Administration is heavily emphasizing Insider Threat programs and cracking down on leaks. The OSC memos will help agencies avoid going too far and inadvertently discouraging legal whistleblower disclosures.
In response to OSC’s confirmation, POGO’s Executive Director, Danielle Brian, said:
“I am glad to see that POGO’s recommendations regarding the placement of these posters and their inappropriate and noncompliant wording has led directly to their removal. Even more so, I am encouraged by the legal message that this removal will send to Energy Department employees, and by the explicit policies that OSC has laid out for all federal agencies in these memos. Whistleblowers are the nation’s first line of defense against waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality within the federal government, and when they are adequately protected, their disclosures can lead to important reforms.”
The posters were a part of the Energy Department's “Insider Threat Program,” and under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, are considered management communications. Under the law, if management communications fail to include required whistleblower disclosure language, they violate the law and require corrective action.