The Whistleblower Protection Program was established to ensure that employees of Federal agencies, Federal contractors, and Federal grantees who disclose allegations of serious wrongdoing or gross mismanagement are free from fear of reprisal for their disclosures. Applicants for Federal employment are also covered.
Protected Disclosures by Federal Employees and Applicants
Disclosure by current and former Federal employees and applicants of the following types of wrongdoing are covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989:
- a violation of any law, rule, or regulation
- a gross waste of funds
- an abuse of authority
- a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
Whistleblower Reprisal Is Prohibited in Federal Employment
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 prohibits reprisal. It is unlawful for agencies to take or threaten to take a personnel action against an employee because he or she disclosed wrongdoing. Personnel actions can include poor performance review, demotion, suspension, or termination. In addition, the law prohibits retaliation for filing an appeal, complaint, or grievance; helping someone else file or testifying on their behalf; or cooperating with or disclosing information to the OIG. For a pamphlet prepared by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) containing more information, click on Know Your Rights When Reporting Wrongs.
Filing a Complaint of Reprisal for Federal Employees and Applicants
The VA OIG refers complainants who believe they have been improperly retaliated against to the following entities:
- The Office of Special Counsel. OSC is an independent agency enforcing whistleblower protections and certain other actions within the Federal government. Information on filing a complaint with OSC may be found on their website at www.osc.gov.
- The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Certain employees may be able to appeal directly to MSPB. More information on whistleblower MSPB appeals is available at www.mspb.gov/appeals/whistleblower.htm
- The VA Office of Resolution Management (ORM). VA employees or applicants who believe they have been reprised against for participating in the Equal Employment Opportunity program should contact ORM at www.va.gov/orm.
Contractor and Grantee Employee Protections for Reporting VA-Related Misconduct
Federal law prohibits VA contractors and grantees from reprising against their employees for making protected whistleblower disclosures. [41 U.S.C. § 4705, 4712] Protected disclosures may include allegations of gross mismanagement of a VA contract or grant; gross waste of VA funds; abuse of authority relating to a VA contract or grant; substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a VA contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant; when made to:
- a member of Congress
- a representative of a committee of Congress
- the VA Inspector General or a VA employee responsible for contract oversight or management
- the Department of Justice or the Government Accountability Office
- a management official or other employee of the contractor or subcontractor who has the responsibility to investigate, discover, or address misconduct within the company
- a court or grand jury
Prohibited actions include employment termination, demotion, or otherwise being discriminated against because of a protected disclosure.
Process for Addressing Reprisal by a VA Contractor or Grantee
Employees of VA contractors or grantees who believe they are being reprised against for making protected disclosures should contact the VA OIG Hotline. A complainant of reprisal must allege that a protected communication or disclosure was made, a management official then learned of the communication/disclosure, and finally, the management official took or threatened to take a reprisal action against the individual who made the communication/disclosure. The complaint must include sufficient detail and support, including documentation, in order for the VA OIG to conduct a review to determine if an investigation is warranted.
The VA OIG investigates substantial allegations of whistleblower reprisal against employees of VA contractors or grantees. The VA OIG reports substantiated allegations of reprisal to the employer and VA for corrective action.
Other Information for Potential Whistleblowers
- Complainants who report allegations of serious wrongdoing or gross mismanagement must provide sufficient information for the OIG to commence an inquiry. This is particularly important when the complainant wishes to remain confidential.
- Complainants are reporting parties, not investigators.
- Protection of a disclosing-party's identity is not absolute, but will always be maintained to the fullest extent possible.
- Complainants must be candid and truthful with investigators or others to whom they disclose alleged wrongdoing or mismanagement.
- A complainant's right to protection against reprisal does not extend immunity for the complainant's own involvement in wrongdoing or mismanagement, if applicable.
Disclosures of information protected by law should be made to a Government agency, such as the OIG, that is authorized to receive and investigate such a disclosure.
The Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman
The VA OIG Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman provides education about protections for current or former employees of VA, VA contractors, or VA grantees who make protected disclosures. The Ombudsman coordinates with VA administrations and staff offices to increase awareness of prohibitions on whistleblower retaliation. In addition, the program disseminates information on rights and remedies against retaliation for making protected disclosures. Specifically, the Ombudsman provides complainants with information on how to contact organizations that address reprisal allegations. This program was authorized by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, which became law on November 27, 2012. By law, the Ombudsman is prohibited from acting as a complainant’s legal representative, agent, or advocate. For additional information, contact Steve Wise at firstname.lastname@example.org.