Despite legal protections, federal whistleblowers can face retaliation
Sometimes it seems as if the federal government and its vast bureaucracy produce an unending stream of scandal. You name the recent headline, from allegations of improper political influence at the IRS to masking the long waits facing sick wounded warriors at Veterans Affairs hospitals by using phony appointment records.
But it need not be this way.
Our government and the services it provides demand transparency and accountability. In short, we need more brave whistleblowers willing to stand up and speak out when something is wrong. As part of my practice at Scaringi & Scaringi P.C. focusing on federal employment, I consider it an honor to represent the rights of whistleblowers.
There are thousands of hard-working federal employees who do their jobs every day with diligence, commitment and dignity. But as with any large organization, our government bureaucracies can go astray. When this happens, the first warning sign that something is amiss often comes from conscientious employees who say something about it.
Despite strong policy designed to protect the federal employment rights of whistleblowers, those in our government who speak out can still face retaliation on the job.
The brave action of calling out what is wrong from within the federal system is essential to good government. Thankfully, federal whistleblowers enjoy strong legal and governmental protections.
The system works better with whistleblowers
In prior articles, I've discussed the many employment rights enjoyed by federal civilian employees. Many of these rights are embodied in a set of prohibited actions, known as "Prohibited Personnel Practices." This is where the federal government painstakingly spells out what its managers may not do when it comes to their employees. These rights should be known and understood by everyone who draws a paycheck from Uncle Sam.
Chief among the Prohibited Personnel Practices is a rule against any federal agency or manager taking retaliatory action against employees who expose waste, wrong or illegal activity.
When a federal employee files a PPP complaint alleging retaliation for being a whistleblower, the matter should draw the immediate attention of the United States Office of Special Counsel, or OSC.
This watchdog agency is responsible for enforcing all of the federal employee protections embodied in the Prohibited Personnel Practices. OSC is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Its authority comes from four federal statutes: the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act.
In fact, the OSC is so committed to combating whistleblower retaliation that its website (www.osc.gov) features videos, testimonials and articles on its enforcement efforts under the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, signed into law in 2012.
I highly recommend the OSC's online resource to any federal employee who believes he or she is being subjected to whistleblower retaliation. Take a minute to review all of OSC's helpful information, including OSC Special Counsel Bruce Fong's detailed video presentation on the subject. If you believe that you qualify for OSC assistance or protection, you can file a complaint right on the OSC's website.
Should you run into problems, call me for assistance and I'll make sure you receive the strong protections to which you're entitled.
Protecting whistleblowers helps us all
I'll always admire those who speak out to correct a wrong, especially when it concerns something as important as our system of federal government. It's been my privilege to personally meet and come to know some of these brave people during my almost 30 years of representing federal employees.
They are clients who faced adverse and illegal repercussions on the job simply for exercising their rights to expose illegal or wasteful actions in the federal workplace. I was never more proud than when standing with them in asserting their legal rights and federal protections as a whistleblower.
Simply put, we need more of their kind. Retaliation against federal whistleblowers not only debilitates the affected employees, it casts a chill across all federal workplaces. This kind of intimidation harms all of us when waste or misconduct in our government goes unchecked and unreported.
This is why agencies such as the OSC must be committed not just to providing legal protections for whistleblowers. They must actively encourage whistleblowers to come forward to report waste, fraud, abuse and corruption in our federal government.
I stand ready to help any brave federal whistleblower who isn't treated as the hero he or she actually is in the federal workplace.