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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

OSC Funding is Essential for Whistleblowers & National Accountability

Shanna Devine, March 01, 2013

This week, GAP and other good government partners sent a letter to Congress, requesting adequate funding for the Office of Special Counsel – the agency charged with protecting federal whistleblowers and investigating their disclosures. During a period when our government is cutting spending across the board, it remains essential that our nation sufficiently fund the sole agency that pays for itself by working with whistleblowers to ferret out government waste, fraud and abuse. The letters opens:

“As you contemplate another continuing resolution for Fiscal Year 2013, our undersigned organizations which are deeply interested in government accountability urge you to increase funding for the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). We should be investing in this government watchdog with a mission to protect whistleblowers because it is extremely effective and does valuable work that returns dividends to taxpayers.”

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, signed into law last November, gives the OSC expanded responsibilities that could greatly increase our government’s ability to root out wasteful spending and protect the public trust. However, OSC must have the resources to perform its expanded role under the WPEA. As detailed in the letter, the WPEA:

  • makes changes to legal standards in the whistleblower law, which will increase the number of cases in which OSC conducts full investigations;
  • clarifies and adds to the personnel practices that are prohibited in response to disclosures of wrongdoing, and therefore can be investigated by the OSC;
  • expands OSC’s jurisdiction by extending protections to over 50,000 passenger and baggage screeners working for the Transportation Security Administration;
  • reverses court decisions that had undermined the law. To defend and preserve the intent of Congress, the OSC may have to pursue more litigation, including more formal disciplinary action cases aimed at deterring prohibited personnel practices;
  • provides the OSC with authority to file friend-of-the-court briefs to support employees appealing MSPB rulings.

The letter states:

“The amount current budgeted amount for the OSC for FY13 does not reflect OSC’s expanded role and responsibilities under the new law which was passed long after the original budget requests were made. Because enacting the bill would increase the workload of the MSPB and OSC, CBO estimated that fully implementing the legislation would require those offices to spend about $2 million a year to hire additional professional and administrative staff to handle additional cases. We believe these estimates are conservative.”

In addition to the WPEA, OSC is responsible for the Civil Service Reform Act, the Hatch Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). As the letter points out, this budget increase was needed long before WPEA expanded duties.

“With a budget that has stayed almost flat since 2008 and a ballooning caseload, OSC has an immediate need for increased funds. In the first quarter after the WPEA was passed, OSC received the single highest number of quarterly filings in the Office’s 35 year history, and they the upward trend to continue. The increase is likely due in part to the federal workforce’s growing confidence in the OSC’s leadership and record of handling cases fairly, efficiently, and competently.”

The track record under the helm of Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, who assumed office in 2011, is equally as unprecedented as its increased caseload and having increased productivity by over 50% in the past few years – a welcome change from her predecessor Scott Bloch, who gained notoriety for reducing his office backlog by disposing of legitimate whistleblower cases. Special Counsel Lerner – coupled with robust federal whistleblower rights – is attracting waves of new disclosures that could yield significant returns if OSC has the resources to properly vet them.

Our nation cannot afford to delay funding this government watchdog agency any longer. The 112th Congress demonstrated its commitment to fight government waste, fraud and abuse through passage of the WPEA. Now it’s time to help the WPEA realize its full potential by adequately funding the agency charged with upholding the new law.

 

Shanna Devine is Legislative Coordinator for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leadingwhistleblower protection and advocacy organization.