Whistleblower disclosures can save lives as well as billions of taxpayer dollars. They play a critical role in keeping our government honest, efficient and accountable. Recognizing that whistleblowers root out waste, fraud and abuse, and protect public health and safety, federal laws strongly encourage employees to disclose wrongdoing. Federal laws also protect whistleblowers from retaliation. Pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, the Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General, has established a Whistleblower Ombudsman to educate Department of Energy employees about prohibitions on retaliation for whistleblowing, as well as employees' rights and remedies if anyone retaliates against them for making a protected disclosure (i.e. "Whistleblowing").
Employees can contact the IG Ombudsman at IGOmbudsman@hq.doe.gov. Employees should know that the IG Ombudsman is not permitted to act as a legal representative or advocate for employees or former employees, but can help explain the employee's options.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I report wrongdoing?
Federal employees have many options to disclose wrongdoing. They can:
- tell a supervisor or someone higher up in management;
- report the issue to their agency’s Office of Inspector General (email@example.com); or
- file a complaint with OSC (https://www.osc.gov/oscefile).
Current and former federal employees and applicants can confidentially report information to an OIG or OSC about any of the following types of wrongdoing:
- violation of any law, rule, or regulation,
- gross waste of funds,
- abuse of authority, or
- substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
Can I keep my identity confidential?
Yes. Most Inspectors General have hotlines that allow employees to make confidential disclosures. Inspectors General are prohibited from disclosing an employee’s identity unless the IG determines that disclosure is unavoidable or is compelled by a court order.
If you file a disclosure with OSC, your identity will not be shared outside of OSC without your consent. OSC may disclose your identity only if OSC determines that it is necessary because of an imminent danger to public health or safety or an imminent violation of any criminal law.
Are whistleblowers protected from retaliation?
Yes. The Whistleblower Protection Act prohibits retaliation. This means 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 retaliation for filing an appeal, complaint, or grievance; helping someone else file or testifying on their behalf; cooperating with or disclosing information to the Special Counsel or an Inspector General; or refusing to obey an unlawful order.
However, disclosures of information specifically prohibited by law or required by Executive order to be kept secret are protected only when made to an OIG or OSC.
Are disclosures to Congress protected?
Yes. Federal law establishes that a federal employee has the right to communicate with and provide information to the United States Congress.
What can you do if you believe whistleblower retaliation occurred?
If you believe that an agency has retaliated against you because of your whistleblowing, you can:
- file a complaint with OSC, which may seek corrective action when warranted;
- file a union grievance; or
- if you have been subject to a significant personnel action, you can file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (www.mspb.gov) and assert whistle-blower retaliation as a defense.
Note that an employee may choose only one of these three options when appealing a significant personnel action.
What relief is available to an employee who has suffered retaliation for whistleblowing?
Many forms of relief are available. They include job restoration, reversal of suspensions and other adverse actions, back pay, reasonable and foreseeable consequential damages, such as medical costs, attorney fees, and compensatory damages. In addition, damages may be awarded for attorney fees and expenses incurred due to retaliation.
Can a manager be held accountable for retaliating against a whistleblower?
Yes. OSC may seek disciplinary action against any employee who commits a prohibited personnel practice. If an agency fails to take disciplinary action, then OSC can bring a disciplinary action case to the MSPB against the employee who committed the prohibited personnel practice. If the MSPB finds that an individual has committed a prohibited personnel practice, it can order disciplinary action, including removal, reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for up to five years, suspension, reprimand, or a fine of up to $1,000.