Human Resources and Security Specialists should use this tool to determine the correct investigation level for any covered position within the U.S. Federal Government.
If you know of fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, or a substantial and specific danger to public safety or health in Office of Personnel Management (OPM) programs and operations, report it to the OPM Office of the Inspector General (OIG) using the OIG Hotline.
Whistleblower disclosures can save lives as well as billions of taxpayer dollars. They play a critical role in keeping our Government honest, efficient, and accountable. Recognizing that whistleblowers root out fraud, waste, and abuse, and protect public health and safety, Federal laws strongly encourage Federal employees, as well as employees of Federal contractors, to disclose wrongdoing. Federal laws also protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 directs Inspectors General to designate a whistleblower protection ombudsman for the purpose of educating employees about prohibitions on retaliation against whistleblowers, and about rights and remedies available to whistleblowers who believe they have been or may be retaliated against. In fulfillment of the ombudsman requirement and to promote the important goal of accountability and transparency within and outside the agency, the OPM OIG Office of Legal Affairs has prepared this page about whistleblower protection policy as an educational resource for employees of OPM, applicants for employment at OPM, and employees of OPM’s contractors and subcontractors.
It is the aim of the OPM OIG to provide as much information as possible to assist and encourage whistleblowers, potential whistleblowers, and victims of actual or threatened whistleblower retaliation. However, please note that OPM OIG staff are prohibited from acting as legal representative, agent, or advocate for whistleblowers, and cannot provide legal advice or counsel. The resources provided on this website are educational only and are not a substitute for private legal advice.
A “protected disclosure” under Federal whistleblower protection law includes any disclosure of information that an employee, former employee, or applicant for employment reasonably believes evidences—
Disclosures of such wrongdoing are covered by whistleblower protections regardless of whether they are made to the Office of the Inspector General, the Office of Special Counsel, a supervisor or someone higher up in management, or a member of Congress or congressional committee—provided that the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law and the information does not have to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or the conduct of foreign affairs.
Federal whistleblower protection law provides legal remedies for employees or job applicants who face retaliation for making protected disclosures of fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, or substantial and specific danger to public safety or health.
Specifically, it is a prohibited personnel practice for Federal employers to retaliate against whistleblowers by taking, failing to take, or threatening to take or not to take, a personnel action. “Personnel action” in this context means an appointment, promotion, disciplinary action, detail, transfer, reassignment, reinstatement, restoration, or reemployment; a decision concerning performance evaluations, pay, benefits, awards, education, training; or any other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions. In addition, the law prohibits retaliation for filing an appeal, complaint, or grievance; helping someone else file or testifying on their behalf; or cooperating with or disclosing information to the OIG. If you are an employee of OPM or an applicant for employment at OPM and you have been subjected to or threatened with this kind of whistleblower retaliation, you have the right to seek redress from the OPM OIG, the Office of Special Counsel, or (in some cases) the Merit Systems Protection Board as described below under “Filing a Complaint of Whistleblower Retaliation or Threatened Retaliation.”
Special Requirements for Nondisclosure Agreements. As further protection for potential whistleblowers, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 prohibits agencies from issuing or enforcing nondisclosure agreements, policies, or forms that do not contain the following statement:
"These provisions are consistent with and do not supersede, conflict with, or otherwise alter the employee obligations, rights, or liabilities created by existing statute or Executive order relating to (1) classified information, (2) communications to Congress, (3) the reporting to an Inspector General of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or (4) any other whistleblower protection. The definitions, requirements, obligations, rights, sanctions, and liabilities created by controlling Executive orders and statutory provisions are incorporated into this agreement and are controlling."
Special Prohibition on Retaliation Affecting Security Clearances. Effective July 8, 2013, Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19) prohibits whistleblower retaliation in the form of actions that affect an employee’s eligibility for access to classified information. The types of protected disclosures covered by PPD-19 are more limited than in the situations described above: the protection only extends to employees whose disclosures were 1) to a supervisor in the employee’s direct chain of command, including the Director of OPM, or 2) to the Inspector General, or 3) to an employee designated by either of the above officials for the purpose of receiving such disclosures. The protection also extends to employees who cooperate with or disclose information to the OIG in connection with an audit, inspection, or investigation.
Unlike other prohibited personnel practices, retaliation or threatened retaliation relating to an employee’s security clearance is not within the jurisdiction of the Office of Special Counsel or the Merit Systems Protection Board. Instead, PPD-19 requires each agency to establish an internal review process to address whether the denial or revocation of an employee’s clearance should be reconsidered because it was improperly based on relation for the employee’s protected whistleblower disclosures. This process will include an OIG investigation and report to the Director of OPM that may recommend corrective or disciplinary action. Any OPM employee whose security clearance is denied or revoked should receive a notice from OPM Facilities, Security and Contracting (FSC) fully explaining the review and appeals process.
If you are an OPM employee or an applicant for employment at OPM, and you believe you have been or may be subjected to whistleblower retaliation, you have several avenues for seeking recourse.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 extended whistleblower protection to employees of Federal contractors, subcontractors, and grantees.
If you believe you have been subjected to whistleblower retaliation (defined below) as an employee of an OPM contractor or subcontractor, you may submit a complaint through the OIG Hotline.
Contractors, subcontractors, and grantees of Federal agencies may not discharge, demote, or otherwise discriminate against an employee as a reprisal for making a protected disclosure of information that the employee reasonably believes is evidence of:
Protected Disclosures in this context include information shared with:
It is important to note that this protection extends only to contractors and subcontractors whose contracts became effective or were amended on or after July 1, 2013, or to whom new task orders have been issued since that date. Additionally, a complaint may not be brought more than three years after the date on which the alleged reprisal took place.
Within 180 days following receipt of a complaint, or within any extended time period up to 180 days as agreed to with the complainant, OPM OIG will either:
The Director will review the OPM OIG’s report and determine whether there is sufficient basis to conclude that the contractor or subcontractor has subjected the employee to a prohibited reprisal. The Director will issue an order within 30 days following receipt of the report either denying relief or granting one or more of the following corrective actions:
If the Director denies relief or if no action has been taken within 210 days of receipt of the complaint (or 30 days following expiration of any extension agreed to between OPM OIG and the complainant), the complainant may bring an action in an appropriate United States district court against his or her employer as described under 41 U.S.C. § 4712.
If the Director orders a corrective action and the contractor or subcontractor fails to comply, the Director will file an action for enforcement in the appropriate United States district court. The complainant may also file or join such an action seeking enforcement of an order.
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