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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Office of Special Counsel Website Needs Complete Overhaul: Memo

Dylan Blaylock, August 22, 2011

Last Thursday, GAP, along with theProject on Government Oversight (POGO) issued a memo to the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on thefunctionality of its website in regards to whistleblower protection information. The whistleblower community is well familiar with OSC, as it is the independent federal agency charged with protecting federal whistleblowers, investigating their disclosures, and reporting its finding to Congress and the President.

The whistleblower community is also well familiar with the fact that the OSC website is in dreadful shape. GAP and POGO were invited to write this memo by OSC, and (again) it's important to note that our critiques focus on the website's functionality and does not address any issues with content (that discussion will probably happen a little further down the road).

The OSC website should be a key resource for all potential and current federal whistleblowers, and shouldpromote and demonstrate transparency, openness, and accountability. Further, it must be dynamic, easily navigable, straightforward, well-organized and aesthetically helpful in directing people to information quickly. But it falls short in many of these areas.

Recurring themes of functionality issues included out-of-date information, difficult navigation, an absence of document organization and transparency, and a lack of social media presence.

Just some of the recommendations made by GAP and POGO include:

  • For newcomers to the site, there is no straightforward, concise language that explains the purpose of the agency. The "general information" listed is simply uninformative for readers not already familiar with the minutia of federal whistleblower processes, or current protections.
  • OSC press releases are often of great importance to multiple parties. But only the latest one is listed on the front page, making it seem as if OSC is attempting to hide its releases. Additionally, OSC press releases are only available in a PDF format, along with everything else listed on the right side of the page (Hatch Act Advisory Opinion, Hatch Act Report). All releases (and reports) should have their own devoted webpages, so that others can share links
  • "Contacts" subpage: OSC is an agency that should have multiple people available to answer whistleblowers' (or other stakeholders') questions related to the status of a case, applicable laws/protections, significance of agency reports, etc. The only contact listed for anyone at OSC on this page is:

For Members of the News Media: Please send inquiries only to OSC Public Affairs using the link below for Congressional and Public Affairs.

This is unacceptable. It gives the impression that OSC does not want people to contact its staff. The "Contacts" page should enable the public to identify relevant staff members and contact them directly (phone numbers, email, etc.)

  • The archives of past OSC reports -- many of which are relevant for decades -- are in terrible shape. For example, OSC reports on specific individuals cannot be found (if at all) easily, nor can the corresponding casework -- at least not through the search function of the site.
  • The state of the OSC website makes it difficult for federal employee whistleblowers to file complaints with the agency. Filing should be a straightforward process on a single page, as opposed to having a "log-in" feature. The OSC website should not be throwing up hurdles, making it more difficult for whistleblowers to report wrongdoing.

GAP and POGO are disappointed in the website and feel it could be much better. Our final recommendation in the memo reads:

Given the limitations of HTML in terms of adjusting structure, and the obvious need for OSC to completely revamp its website, it is the joint recommendation of GAP and POGO that OSC start a new website from scratch that eliminates recurrent problems and implements the recommendations contained within this memo.

If you feel that GAP/POGO missed anything in our memo regarding the OSC website, please comment fully on this blog post (below), and we will alert OSC staff to read such comments after they are made. 

 

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