The report’s title, Complainants did not always Receive Appropriate Investigations under the Whistleblower Protection Program, was an understatement when examined within the context of it’s findings: After a one year review period of over 1,200 cases from 2009-2010, the OIG found that 80% of whistleblower investigations did not meet one or more standards in OSHA’s own Whistleblower Investigations Manual; OSHA only found merit for 2% of retaliation complaints; OSHA issued final rulings without conducting any face to face interviews in nearly half its “investigations”; and only 21% of cases settled prior to a ruling. Out of those, only 3% of employees went back to work and 13% received any financial compensation.
These stats are not surprising given the ad hoc conditions of OSHA investigations. According to the OIG’s findings, investigations are conducted without:
- required training for supervisors
- written guidance to conduct investigations under new corporate whistleblower statutes, or
- subject matter experts available to help investigators with technical issues
Further, the report found that investigators are regularly assigned up to four times their proper caseload, and that timeliness - not quality - is the sole performance standard to evaluate work on whistleblower cases. This sends a message to employees who try to report abuse that OSHA is more concerned with the quantity of cases it closes rather than the quality of its fact-finding and willingness to decide cases in the merits.
These findings should not be taken lightly by new OSHA Director David Michaels, given the broad public health and safety statutes that his agency has jurisdiction over. OSHA oversees whistleblower laws related to the trucking, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, consumer product safety, medical care, and financial industries. Nor should these findings come as a surprise; an August report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also scrutinized OSHA’s whistleblower protection program.
Shanna Devine is Legislative Coordinator for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.