Inspector general community launches new online reporting tool for whistleblowers

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Federal whistleblowers have a little more guidance and direction now from the inspector general community to report the waste, fraud and abuse they see at their agencies.

The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) this week launched a new feature on Oversight.gov, the publicly searchable website of all reports and updates from agency inspectors general.

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The new page, which CIGIE launched on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, includes resources for whistleblowers about their rights, as well as a detailed walk-through of the process for reporting waste, fraud and abuse at individual agencies. It also directs whistleblowers to the appropriate inspector general hotline — or the Office of Special Counsel’s disclosure unit and Government Accountability Office’s FraudNet portal.

“What we tried to do over the past year or so was think about how we could deliver more information to insiders, to whistleblowers, to come forward [and] report to the IG community on waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct, so that we can help make government more effective and efficient and root out wrongdoing,” Michael Horowitz, Justice Department inspector general and CIGIE chairman, told a group of whistleblowers Tuesday at an annual celebratory lunch on Capitol Hill.

The idea is to get the word out to the federal workforce, Horowitz said, to inform whistleblowers about their rights and encourage them to come forward.

Securing the funding to develop the new whistleblower landing page was a challenge, Horowitz said. Sen. James Lankford, former chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, championed the funding for this project in the fiscal 2019 spending omnibus, Horowitz said.

“The inspectors general and the whistleblowers and the folks who are actually engaged in this ongoing work… are the ones making the difference,” Lankford said. “We’re just trying to facilitate that communication and to make sure that everyone both knows that this is not legal behavior or sees it and has the opportunity to say, ‘where would I go to be able to report this?'”

The current site is a “beta” test, CIGIE hopes to the build out the site further with additional resources, Horowitz said. The next steps, however, are dependent on whether the council can secure new appropriations from Congress.

“We’re looking for you to tell us what else we can do to build that site out,” he said.

Senate bill includes promising protections

The Senate has been particularly active this past year in recognizing and attempting to secure additional protections for federal whistleblowers.

The chamber’s version of the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2018-2020 includes a few provisions that could have a positive impact on whistleblowers.

The bill would allow whistleblowers within intelligence community agencies to request an external review if they’ve exhausted all other options in pursuing their complaints.

The legislation also requires the intelligence community inspector general to set up a hotline to receive whistleblower complaints.

The Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus has also expanded this year. Three additional senators, including Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), joined the caucus this year, the group’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said.

“It’s great to see so many of my colleagues stepping forward to express their support for whistleblowers,” Grassley said. “The service that they — you all —do for this country is beyond estimation.”

When Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) first got to Washington, he said he was surprised by the prevalence of retaliation against whistleblowers. He recalled the federal employees who worked at the Tomah VA Medical Center in Wisconsin. They highlighted the abusive practices of a doctor at the facility who over-prescribed opioids to veterans and were retaliated against for their disclosures, Johnson said. The facility eventually earned the reputation of “Candyland.”

“Because that whistleblower came forward, people actually got fired,” Johnson said. “People were held accountable. But most important, policymakers, the head of the VA [and] veterans themselves realized there was a problem there that had to be corrected. We’ve taken some real remedial action, and it’s improved.”

The Senate passed a resolution earlier this month commemorating July 30 as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. The resolution urged agency leaders to inform employees, contractors and members of the public

The day itself is rooted in more than 200 years of history, when 10 sailors and Marines fighting in the Revolutionary War blew the whistle on the Navy commodore in 1778.

The sailors and Marines left their post and presented their findings to the Continental Congress, which reviewed their testimony.

“That was before our constitution was even done, which would mean longer than we’ve been a country, we’ve been trying to hold our government to excellence,” Lankford said. “That’s a pretty good tradition for us as a country, so let’s keep doing that.”

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