The Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency charged with protecting federal employees from retaliation for whistleblowing, has been without a leader for almost 18 months. This issue deserves more media attention, and it’s good that GovExec is recognizing that. Without a director, the agency has been unable to implement major policy changes or program initiatives, or support upcoming whistleblower protection legislation.
Several Government Accountability Project clients have found success with the OSC. Gabe Bruno, former Federal Aviation Administration Manager of the Orlando Flight Standards District Office, blew the whistle on certain failures of the FAA to promote security. The OSC informed Bruno in 2009 that it found his disclosures revealed a “substantial likelihood that serious safety concerns persist in the management and operation of the certification and management programs at FAA.”
Bogdan Dzakovic was a former leader of the FAA’s counter-terrorism unit ‘Red Team’ which, prior to 9/11, tested aviation security in airports around the world. The security systems failed around 75-90 percent of the time, but the FAA censored any written records of the failures, and banned retesting. After the attacks, the Red Team was grounded. Dzakovic filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the OSC, which eventually ruled in favor of his allegations, stating that the FAA executed its civil aviation security mission in a manner that “was a substantial and specific danger to public safety.”
Maria Garzino, United States Army Corps of Engineers mechanical and civil engineer, was awarded the 2009 Public Servant Award of the Year by the OSC. Garzino is credited with revealing the inadequate state of New Orleans floodwater pumps built by the USACE after Hurricane Katrina. In Garzino's case the OSC found that “the government and the public cannot reasonably trust that the flood control system in place in New Orleans possesses reliability and integrity.”
A recent USA Today article about legislation that would enhance whistleblower rights mentioned how the OSC got into its current state. The article says:
The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates federal whistle-blower complaints, has had no leader since October 2008. That's when then-special counsel Scott Bloch resigned amid an FBI investigation into whether he obstructed justice by illegally deleting computer files following complaints that he himself had retaliated against employees who disagreed with his policies. Obama made a campaign vow at the time to appoint a special counsel committed to whistle-blower rights, but he has yet to nominate a replacement.
Considering the Obama administration's recent push for federal government transparency and accountability and recognition of the importance of whistleblower rights, GAP is hopeful the administration will make the nomination of an OSC director a priority.