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 OIG's Whistleblower Protection Program

Overview

Whistleblowers play a critical role in keeping our government honest, efficient, and accountable. A core value of OIG is protecting the diligent employees of the U.S. Department of Commerce and its contractors and grantees who step forward to identify potential wrongdoing in their organizations from unlawful reprisal. The OIG designed this page, and the linked information accessible from this page, to educate Department of Commerce employees, contractors, subcontractors, grantees, subgrantees, and personal service contractors about whistleblower protections and avenues for raising concerns.  

Whistleblower Protection Coordinator

Pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA), the OIG designated a Whistleblower Protection Coordinator. The Whistleblower Protection Coordinator's role is to educate Department of Commerce employees about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures, and their rights and remedies if retaliation occurs as a result of making protected disclosures.

For more information regarding whistleblower rights and protections for federal employees, please see the pamphlet prepared by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel  Know Your Rights When Reporting Wrongs or the Frequently Asked Questions prepared by the OIG.

DOC employees and other covered and protected employees may also contact the Whistleblower Protection Coordinator at 202.482.1099 or at wpo@oig.doc.gov.

Please note that the Whistleblower Protection Coordinator is not permitted to act as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for any individual whistleblower.  

How to File Whistleblower Reprisal Complaints

If an adverse personnel action has been taken or threatened against you in reprisal for making a disclosure of wrongdoing within your operating unit to the OIG, or elsewhere, you may submit a complaint directly to the OIG Hotline, or to the Office of Special Counsel, which can seek disciplinary action against any employee who commits a prohibited personnel practice
 If you submit your complaint to the OIG, we will review whether it is appropriate for the OIG to investigate, or whether another agency or division should process the complaint.  Please note that the OIG does not have the authority to investigate EEO complaints.  The Department of Commerce’s Office of Civil Rights investigates EEO complaints.  

Employees of Department of Commerce Contractors, Subcontractors, Grantees, or Subgrantees or Personal Services Contractors

Under 41 U.S.C. § 4712 it is illegal for employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, grantees, subgrantees, or personal services contractors to be discharged, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against for making a protected whistleblower disclosure. The DOC OIG has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of whistleblower reprisal against employees of DOC contractors, subcontractors, grantees, subgrantees, or personal service contractors. For more information about whistleblower protections for such employees, please consult the informational flyer prepared by the OIG.


The OIG Hotline receives information about waste, fraud, abuse, misconduct, or whistleblower reprisal relating to a DOC employee, program, contract, or grant.  

Whistleblower Protection Agency Certification

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) certifies the OIG to conduct training and promotion of the provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, Pub. L. No. 95-454, 92 Stat. 1111; Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, Pub. L. No. 101-12, 103 Stat. 16; Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-119, 126 Stat. 1465, and other related laws. In 1994, Congress responded to reports of widespread ignorance in the federal workforce concerning employees' right to be free from prohibited personnel practices, especially retaliation for whistleblowing, by enacting 5 U.S.C. § 2302(c). That provision charges "[t]he head of each agency" with responsibility for "ensuring (in consultation with the Office of Special Counsel) that agency employees are informed of the rights and remedies available to them" under the prohibited personnel practice and whistleblower retaliation protection provisions of Title 5 of the United States code. OSC's Section 2302(c) Certification Program allows federal agencies to meet the statutory obligation to inform their workforces about the rights and remedies available to them under the Whistleblower Protection Act and related civil service laws. Under OSC's Section 2302(c) Certification Program, OSC will certify an agency's compliance with 5 U.S.C. § 2302(c) if the agency meets the following five requirements: 
                                            
  • Placing informational posters at agency facilities;
  • Providing information about prohibited personnel practices and the WPA to new employees as part of the orientation process;
  • Providing information to current employees about prohibited personnel practices and the WPA;
  • Training supervisors on prohibited personnel practices and the WPA; and
  • Creation of a link from the agency’s website to OSC’s website.

Nondisclosure Agreements

Pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, the following statement applies to every nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement of the Government (with current or former federal employees), including those in effect before the Act's effective date of December 27, 2012:

These provisions are consistent with and do not supersede, conflict with, or otherwise alter the employee obligations, rights, or liabilities created by existing statute or Executive order relating to (1) classified information, (2) communications to Congress, (3) the reporting to an Inspector General of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or (4) any other whistleblower protection. The definitions, requirements, obligations, rights, sanctions, and liabilities created by controlling Executive Orders and statutory provisions are incorporated into this agreement and are controlling.

The following Executive orders and statutory provisions are controlling in the case of any conflict with an agency non-disclosure policy, form, or agreement: 

 

Also, please note that except where required by law, whistleblowers need not make disclosures through any particular channel.[i]  There are many permissible ways for a whistleblower to make disclosures, e.g., to OSC, to an IG, to agency leadership, to officials outside the employee's chain of command, to Congress, or to the media.

Disclosures are protected unless they are specifically prohibited by law or Executive order.  Although materials that agencies circulate to employees may use phrases such as “unauthorized disclosures," “leak," or “leakers," these terms can be ambiguous and may cause employees to believe that lawful whistleblowing activities are being curtailed. Employees who make protected disclosures have not “leak[ed]" information, nor are they “leakers." Therefore, agencies should be mindful about the use of such terms. In cases where agencies use the term “unauthorized disclosures" to refer to those specifically prohibited by law, a clear distinction should be drawn between this term and protected whistleblowing. To ensure that employees understand the scope of the prohibition agencies mean to convey when addressing “unauthorized disclosures," a best practice would be to carefully define this term so that it pertains only to the disclosure of information that is prohibited by law or Executive order. Agencies should also communicate the appropriate process for making disclosures about this type of information.

 

[i] Under section 2302(b)(8), employees do not have to use a particular channel to make a disclosure if such disclosure “is not specifically prohibited by law and if such information is not specifically required by Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or the conduct of foreign affairs." Where this statutory exception applies, as it would in the case of classified information, employees must utilize specific channels when making a disclosure. These channels are OSC, IGs, and “another employee designated by the head of the agency to receive such disclosures." Id.; see also National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-91 § 1097(b) (requiring agency heads to ensure that employees are informed of the means by which they may lawfully disclose classified information to OSC, inspectors general, Congress, or designated agency officials).