The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, requires every IG to appoint an Ombudsman. The Act requires that an ombudsman educate employees about the rights and protections available to whistleblowers.
The State Department IG Steve Linick has appointed Jeff McDermott as Ombudsman for the Department of State and the BBG. Mr. McDermott is a career appointee and his ombudsman duties are in addition to his duties as a senior investigative counsel. He also serves as the OIG’s representative to the Justice Department’s whistleblower protection committee and counsels individual whistleblowers. Within OIG, he works with the Office of Investigations to investigate allegations of retaliation by contractor and grantee employees. He is available to discuss the protections against retaliation and how to make a protected disclosure, but he cannot act as your legal representative or advocate. You may contact him at at OIGWPEAOmbuds@state.gov. Read more here. The “Know Your Rights” video is here. We asked the OIG a couple of questions:
Q: What protection is there for whistleblowers?
The law protects individuals from reprisal for reporting potential misconduct or alleged criminal activities. Reprisal can come in the form of a prohibited personnel practice which occurs when a person with authority takes, fails to take or threatens to take a personnel action against an employee because of the employee’s protected disclosure and can include details, transfers, reassignments, and significant changes in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions.
Q: Are hotline callers automatically considered whistleblowers?
No, whether or not a hotline caller is considered a whistleblower depends first on whether the hotline caller has made a protected disclosure. The caller may be entitled to whistleblower protection if he or she indicates that a personnel action was taken because of the protected disclosure. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Office of Special Counsel may receive and investigate claims for whistleblower protection from federal employees, former federal employees, and applicants for federal employment. In addition, OIG offers confidentiality or anonymity to any individual who contacts the hotline and fears retaliation because of the disclosure. In 2013, Congress created a pilot program whereby employees of contractors and grantees who allege they are retaliated against for whistleblowing can request an investigation by the OIG, and in these cases, OIG does determine whether a complainant qualifies as a whistleblower and whether retaliation occurred because of the whistleblowing activity.
We were told by State/OIG that in 2014, the office processed 1,278 Hotline complaints for the calendar year. We understand that this is generally in line with the amount of complaints the OIG processed in 2013. However, a significant portion of the OIG complaints reportedly pertain to visa issues, and those complaints are sent to Consular Affairs for appropriate response and action. Occasionally, the office also receive complaints that do not pertain to Department of State or Broadcasting Board of Governors matters – i.e. Veteran’s Affairs, Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, etc. Those submissions are referred to the appropriate Office of Inspector General and are not counted in State/OIG’s tally of “processed Hotline complaints”.
Some notable whistleblowers have been brought to life on the big screen. Check out the top 10 whistleblower movies via http://www.WatchMojo.com:
“A Concerned FS Officer” sent us the following for your consideration, appended to this post on 2/9/15 at 15:47 PST:
While “retaliation” is officially forbidden, it is close to impossible to prove. Assignments, for example, are at the Dept’s discretion, needs of the service, etc. and it can just be a coincidence that your whistleblowing and your assignment to the butthole of the world coincide. Same of course for the black hole of promotions.
Once you are a troublemaker, er, whistleblower, be prepared for a non-retaliatory “routine” deep dive into your life. Suddenly there’s a need to audit your travel vouchers back to the Dulles era, DS needs to update your clearance based on info received you can’t see, that sort of thing. All of those moves are well-within the Dept’s routine responsibilities and you’ll never prove they’re connected to your talking to the OIG.
If you are contemplating blowing the whistle, speak to a qualified, outside lawyer first. AFSA has its place, but you need serious advice from someone familiar with the real-world case law, not just Dept practices.
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