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An Introduction to Whistleblowers and Their Rights and Protections

The Government Publishing Office (GPO) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is providing the below information as an introduction to Whistleblowers’ rights and protections.

Please note that this is only a summary of the statutory framework, which can be found at 5 U.S.C. § 2302. You may also consult the website of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). General information is summarized in the OSC publication entitled “Know Your Rights When Reporting Wrongs.”

GPO OIG staff are prohibited from acting as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for any individual. This website is intended to provide basic information only, and it is not intended to be a substitute for legal counsel. Information shared here may change without notice.

Who is a “Whistleblower”?
A whistleblower is someone who makes a protected disclosure (that is, discloses information to an entity authorized to receive it, such as the Inspector General) that he or she reasonably believes is evidence of:

  • Violation of any law, rule, or regulation;
  • Gross mismanagement;
  • Gross waste of funds;
  • Abuse of authority; or
  • Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

A whistleblower may be an employee, former employee, or applicant.

What is a “Protected Disclosure”?
In order for your disclosure of information about wrongdoing to be protected, you must have a reasonable, good faith belief that the allegations you are disclosing are truthful. There are five types of protected disclosures:

  • A violation of law, rule, or regulation;
  • Gross mismanagement;
  • Gross waste of funds;
  • An abuse of authority; and
  • A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

Disclosures of such wrongdoing are covered by whistleblower protections regardless of whether they are made to the OIG, the OSC, a supervisor or someone higher up in management, or a member of Congress or Congressional committee – provided that the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law and the information does not have to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or the conduct of foreign affairs.

If your disclosure involves classified information, please see “How Do I Disclose Classified Information to the OIG?” below.

What are Whistleblowers’ Rights and Protections?
If a whistleblower makes a protected disclosure, as discussed above, then management may not retaliate against them for making that disclosure.

What is “Whistleblower Retaliation”?
It is a prohibited personnel practice for management to retaliate against whistleblowing Federal employees. Whistleblower retaliation is an adverse action in response to a protected disclosure of information. Retaliation may include almost any personnel action, failure to take a personnel action, or threat to take or fail to take a personnel action, which adversely affects the whistleblower, such as:

  • A non-promotion;
  • A disciplinary action;
  • A detail, transfer, or reassignment;
  • An unfavorable performance evaluation;
  • A decision concerning pay, benefits, or awards; or
  • A significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions.

Why Should You Report Wrongdoing?
Whistleblowers play a critical role in keeping our Government honest, efficient, and accountable. Whistleblower disclosures can save lives as well as billions of taxpayer dollars.

When Should You Report Wrongdoing?
As soon as you observe it! You should immediately report any of the following:

  • Violation of any law, rule, or regulation;
  • Gross mismanagement;
  • Gross waste of funds;
  • Abuse of authority; or
  • Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety

It is essential that the above wrongdoing be reported promptly so that it can be stopped. Depending on the type of wrongdoing you observe, lives could literally depend upon it.

Where Can You Report a Complaint of Whistleblower Retaliation?

  • GPO OIG Hotline: You can contact the GPO OIG using various means, including emailing us at [email protected].
  • Office of Special Counsel (OSC): OSC is an independent agency enforcing whistleblower protections, safeguarding the merit system, and providing a secure channel for whistleblower disclosures. Information on filing a complaint with OSC may be found at www.osc.gov.
  • 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.
  • GPO Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office: GPO employees who believe they have been reprised against for participating in the EEO program at GPO should contact the GPO EEO Office at [email protected].

How Do I Disclose Classified Information to the OIG?
You can make a protected disclosure of classified information to the OIG, but the information may not be transmitted using the GPO OIG’s unclassified hotline. For more information on how to properly provide classified information to the GPO OIG, please contact the GPO OIG’s Hotline and request guidance.

If I Report Something to the OIG, Will My Identity Be Kept Confidential?
Confidentiality – In accordance with the GPO Inspector General Act of 1988 and Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, the identity of all individuals who file a complaint with GPO OIG will remain confidential and not disclosed to anyone outside of GPO OIG without the consent of the individual complainant, unless the Inspector General determines such disclosure is unavoidable during the course of the investigation or disclosure is otherwise required by law.

For more information about what Confidentiality means for you see GPO OIG Confidentiality.

Other Information for Potential Whistleblowers
Employees who report allegations of serious wrongdoing or gross mismanagement should provide sufficient information for the GPO OIG to commence an inquiry. This is particularly important when the employee wishes to remain confidential.

Employees must be candid and truthful with the GPO OIG or other entity to whom they disclose alleged wrongdoing or mismanagement.