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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Most of Office of Special Counsel (OSC) Closed During Shutdown

Dylan Blaylock, October 04, 2013

In a recent blog post, GAP sister organization POGO (the Project on Government Oversight) raises an excellent point that's getting lost in all the media coverage of the federal government shutdown. The Office of Special Counsel – the agency charged with investigating whistleblower disclosures and providing strong protections for those who speak the truth in the workplace – has closed its doors, except for a few employees who will be monitoring disclosures that might reveal "a substantial and serious risk to public health or safety or those requiring emergency action to protect property." So, a skeleton staff over at the OSC isn't going to be handling new or existing intakes that may involve gross fraud or other types of corruption and wrongdoing. This is unacceptable.

You'd think that accountability – in this case, malfeasance involving the federal government – should be a protected pillar of government funding. Polls certainly indicate that protecting whistleblowers in government is a no-brainer. Alas, during the length of the shutdown, it looks like a maximum of 14 employees (out of 110) are retained at the OSC offices across the country. Let's hear it for 12.7% accountability of government activities!

POGO's Christine Anderson does a good job of listing the other agencies involved in the whistleblower protection process that have been shutdown or are operating with just a fraction of staffers. This includes the Merit Systems Protection Board; the Inspector General offices at Defense, Interior, and Social Security; and the Government Accountability Office (the investigatory arm of Congress). Oh, and essentially all Freedom of Information Act requests are delayed as well, thanks to the closing of the Office of Government Information Services.

Turning back to the OSC,  there are so many federal whistleblower disclosures in the pipeline that this crucial agency already suffers from a lack of resources to manage them all. Less than a month ago, thisFederal Times piece detailed how the OSC has seen a surge in disclosures since Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner took over in 2011, but that inadequate resources forced layoffs and heavy reliance on interns. (GAP has applauded the job Lerner has done in turning the agency around since the horrific Scott Bloch era.)

So the end result of the shutdown for the agency is that the backlog it is dealing with will inevitably increase, as staff will have to deal with an influx of new disclosures when they return. This means even longer delays for whistleblowers who are just trying to do the right thing.

 

Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.