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Whistleblower Protection Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about whistleblower protection? Your question may already be answered here in our list of frequently asked questions. If not, please contact the OIG's Whistleblower Protection Coordinator.

    DOI employees have many options to disclose wrongdoing. They can:

    Current and former DOI employees and applicants for employment can confidentially report information to the DOI OIG or to the OSC about any of the following types of wrongdoing:

    • a violation of any law, rule, or regulation;
    • gross mismanagement;
    • a gross waste of funds;
    • an abuse of authority; or
    • a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

    The OSC protects Federal civilian employees who make disclosures to the OSC or to the OIG from retaliation.

    Yes. The DOI OIG has a hotline that allows employees to make confidential disclosures. The OIG is prohibited from disclosing an employee's identity without the employee's consent unless the OIG determines that disclosure is unavoidable or is compelled by a court order.

    If you file a disclosure with the OSC, your identity will not be shared outside the OSC without your consent. The OSC may disclose your identity only if the OSC determines that it is necessary because of an imminent danger to public health or safety or an imminent violation of any criminal law.

    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 a poor performance review, reassignment, demotion, suspension, or termination.

    In addition, the law prohibits retaliation for:

    • filing an appeal, complaint, or grievance;
    • helping someone else file or testifying on that person's behalf;
    • cooperating with or disclosing information to the OSC or an Inspector General; or
    • refusing to obey an unlawful order.

    Employees who disclose information that is prohibited by law or executive order from being disclosed are protected from retaliation if the disclosure is made to an OIG or the OSC.

    Yes. Federal law establishes that a Federal employee has the right to communicate with and provide information to the United States Congress.

    If you believe that the agency has retaliated against you because of your whistleblowing, you may:

    • file a complaint with the DOI OIG;
    • file a complaint with the 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 (MPSB) and assert whistleblower retaliation as a defense.

    Presidential Policy Directive-19 (PPD-19) requires DOI and other Federal agencies to establish a review process that enables an employee to appeal an action affecting the employee’s eligibility for access to classified information, if the employee believes the action was taken in reprisal for a protected disclosure of fraud, waste, or abuse.  As part of the process, the employee may request the DOI OIG to review the alleged reprisal.  An employee can report allegations of retaliation through the OIG hotline.

    A disclosure of waste, fraud, or abuse that includes classified information is not a protected disclosure under the whistleblower laws unless the disclosure is made in accordance with the laws and rules that govern the proper handling and transmission of classified information. For example, you are not protected for disclosing classified information to an unauthorized recipient, even if you reasonably believe the information is evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse. You can make a protected disclosure of classified information to the OIG, but the information may not be transmitted using the OIG’s unclassified hotline. For more information on how to properly provide classified information to the OIG, please contact the OIG’s hotline at 800-424-5081 or the OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator at whistleblowerprotection@doioig.gov.

    Section 828 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 extended whistleblower protections to employees of government contractors, subcontractors, and grant recipients as part of a 4-year pilot program.  Information about the program can be found at 41 U.S.C. Section 4712. Under the pilot program, reprisal is prohibited against employees of contractors, subcontractors, or grantees for coming forward with information that they reasonably believe is evidence of gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant, a gross waste of Federal funds, an abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant, a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant.

    On December 14, 2016, Congress passed Public Law 114-261, which permanently extends whistleblower protections to these employees. The new law also extends the protections to subgrantees and personal services contractors working on Federal defense and civilian contracts.

    An employee of a DOI contractor, subcontractor, personal services contractor, grantee, or subgrantee who believes that he or she has been subjected to prohibited reprisal may submit a complaint through the OIG hotline.

    Many forms of relief are available. They include:

    • job restoration
    • reversal of suspensions and other adverse actions;
    • back pay; and
    • 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.

    Yes. The OSC may seek disciplinary action against any employee who commits a prohibited personnel practice. If an agency fails to take disciplinary action, then the 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 5 years, suspension, reprimand, or a fine of up to $1,000.

    Pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, the following statement applies to non-disclosure policies, forms, or agreements of the federal government with current or former 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 controlling Executive Orders and statutory provisions in the event of any conflict with a non-disclosure policy, form, or agreement include, as of March 14, 2013:

    • Executive Order No. 13526 (governing classified national security information);
    • 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 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (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)).