Whistleblowers play a critical role in keeping our government honest, efficient and accountable. In recognition of this role, Federal laws outline the duty of Federal employees to disclose wrongdoing, and they are to do so in an environment free from the threat of retaliation.
WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION OMBUDSMAN
Pursuant to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA), the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Inspector General (OIG) designated a "Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman." The Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman's role is to educate DOE employees about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures and their rights and remedies if they have been retaliated against for making protected disclosures. The law does not permit the Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman to act as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for DOE employees. This page, and the linked information accessible from this page, is designed to help educate DOE employees about whistleblower protections. See below for Frequently Asked Questions.
The OIG designated Virginia Grebasch, Counsel to the IG, to serve as the DOE Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman. DOE Federal and contactor employees can obtain information about whistleblower issues by contacting: IGOmbudsman@hq.doe.gov
An additional resource for information is the DOE Ombudsman, who provides traditional ombudsman services to employees, supervisors, and management personnel regarding work-related concerns. Employees can contact DOE’s Office of the Ombudsman at: email@example.com. This office is not a component of the OIG.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a whistleblower?
A "whistleblower" is an individual who reports information he/she reasonably believes evidences:
- A violation of any law, rule, or regulation
- Gross mismanagement: substantial risk of significant adverse impact on mission
- Gross waste of funds: more than a debatable expenditure
- Abuse of authority: an arbitrary decision for personal gain and/or to injure others
- A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
A "reasonable belief" generally means that a disinterested observer with knowledge of the essential facts known to and readily ascertainable by the employee or applicant can reasonably conclude that the actions of the agency official evidenced such violation, mismanagement, waste, abuse, or danger. This standard excludes rumors, speculation, and nonspecific allegations (e.g., "harassment," or "fraud").
Where can I report wrongdoing?
There are many options to disclose wrongdoing. You can:
- tell a supervisor or someone higher up in management;
- report the issue to an agency’s Office of Inspector General (http://energy.gov/ig/services); or
- Federal employees can file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (https://www.osc.gov/oscefile).
Can I keep my identity confidential?
Yes. Most Inspectors General have hotlines that allow individuals to make confidential disclosures. Visit the following link for more information on confidentiality: http://energy.gov/ig/services
For information on the Office of Special Counsel’s protection of Federal employee confidentiality, visit https://www.osc.gov/oscefile.
Are whistleblowers protected from retaliation?
Yes. It is unlawful for agencies to take or threaten to take an adverse personnel action against an employee because he or she disclosed wrongdoing. Adverse personnel actions include poor performance reviews, demotion, suspension or other forms of retaliation for filing an appeal, complaint, or grievance. Other types of protected activity include helping someone else file or testifying on their behalf; cooperating with or disclosing information to the Office of Special Counsel or an Inspector General; or refusing to obey an unlawful order.
Protections for Federal employees include: The Inspector General Act of 1978 and the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. Presidential Policy Directive 19 also protects Federal whistleblowers with access to classified information.
Protections for DOE Contractor employees include: The long-standing DOE Contractor Employee Protection Program (10 C.F.R. Part 708); Section 1553 of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act; and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA). The NDAA allows employees of contractors, subcontractors, and grantees to file a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for certain disclosures relating to contracts and grants awarded on or after July 1, 2013.
What can you do if you believe whistleblower retaliation occurred?
If you are a Federal employee and believe that you have been retaliated against because of your whistleblowing, you may contact:
- The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (https://www.osc.gov/oscefile), or
- The DOE OIG (http://energy.gov/ig/services),
If you are a Federal employee and have been subject to a significant personnel action, you can file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (www.mspb.gov) and assert whistleblower retaliation as a defense;
If you are a DOE contractor employee and believe that you have been retaliated against because of your whistleblowing, you may contact:
- DOE’s Employee Concerns Program (http://energy.gov/diversity/services/protecting-civil-rights/reporting-employee-concerns), or
- The DOE OIG (http://energy.gov/ig/services)
What relief is available to an employee who has suffered retaliation for whistleblowing?
A number of forms of relief are available from your agency or the Office of Special Counsel. These may include job restoration, reversal of suspensions and other adverse actions, back pay, reasonable and foreseeable consequential damages, such as medical costs, attorney fees, and compensatory damages. In addition, damages may be awarded for attorney fees and expenses incurred due to retaliation.