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 OIG's Whistleblower Protection Program

Overview

A core value of OIG is protecting from unlawful reprisal the diligent employees of the Commerce Department and its contractors and grantees who step forward to identify potential wrongdoing in their organizations. A number of laws provide important whistleblower protections, including the Inspector General Act of 1978 and the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 for Commerce Department and other federal employees.

Coverage for contractor employees includes provisions of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994; the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, Pub. L. No. 112-239, 126 Stat. 1632 extended whistleblower protection to employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, and grantees. Protection has subsequently been extended to employees of subgrantees and personal services contractors.  Enhancement of Whistleblower Protection for Contractor and Grantee Employees, Pub. L. No. 114-261, 130 Stat. 1362; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (which establishes protections for employees of non-federal recipients of Recovery Act funds, to include grantees); the Federal Acquisition Regulations; and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009.

OIG's Whistleblower Protection Program—overseen by the Assistant Inspector General for Investigations—carries out a number of key functions that include:​

  • Reviewing and determining appropriate action for reprisal complaints filed with OIG.
  • Communicating with whistleblowers about (a) their complaints of reprisal for whistleblowing; and (b) the underlying fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, or danger to health/safety they disclosed internally to their employers and/or through external protected disclosures [such as to OIG, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress].
  • Conducting and coordinating inquiries and investigations into alleged unlawful reprisal; and ensuring the timely reporting of investigative findings and recommendations for corrective action as appropriate.
  • Promoting awareness of, and compliance with, whistleblower protections through the Commerce Department.
  • Evaluating the sufficiency of policy and its dissemination across the Department regarding whistleblower protections and the right of employees to contact OIG and other oversight providers.
  • Assessing the extent to which the Department and its operating units foster a culture that encourages employees to raise concerns in an environment that is free of reprisal in any form.
  • Communicating with, and reporting to, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Congress, and other oversight entities on whistleblower protection matters.     
  • OIG's Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman

    Pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, OIG has designated a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman to educate Department of Commerce employees about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures, as well as the rights and remedies against retaliation for protected disclosures for those who have made or are contemplating making a protected disclosure. Employees can contact the Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman at 202.482.1099 or at wpo@oig.doc.gov. This resource provides more information on whistleblower protections, rights, and remedies.

    Please note that the Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman is not permitted to act as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for current or former employees.

    How to File Whistleblower Reprisal Complaints

    Department of Commerce federal employees and covered contractor/grantee employees may make reprisal complaints to OIG by contacting the Hotline.

    Commerce employees may also file complaints with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which under the Whistleblower Protection Act has the authority to both investigate and prosecute complaints of reprisal against whistleblowing employees (as well as other Prohibited Personnel Practices).

    Whistleblower Protection Agency Certification

    OIG has been certified by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for conducting training and promoting awareness of provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. §2302(c).

    In 1994, Congress responded to reports of widespread ignorance in the federal workforce concerning employees' right to be free from prohibited personnel practices (PPP), 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.

    OSC's 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 the 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 PPPs and the WPA to new employees as part of the orientation process;
  • Providing information to current employees about PPPs and the WPA;
  • Training supervisors on PPPs and the WPA; and
  • Creation of a computer link from the agency's website to OSC's website.
  • Important Notice: Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 Required Statement — 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, as of March 14, 2013:

  • Executive Order No. 13526;
  • Section 7211 of Title 5, United States Code (governing disclosures to Congress);
  • Section 1034 of Title 10, United States Code as amended by the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (governing disclosure to Congress by members of the military);
  • Section 2302(b)(8) of title 5, United States Code, as amended by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (governing disclosures of illegality, waste, fraud, abuse or public health or safety threats);
  • Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (50 U.S.C. 421 et seq.) (governing disclosures that could expose confidential Government agents);
  • The statutes which protect against disclosure that may compromise the national security, including sections 641, 793, 794, 798, and 952 of title 18, United States Code; and
  • Section 4(b) of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 (50 U.S.C. 783(b)).