By Maya Efrati

After nearly a year of research and review, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has released a report outlining best practices for how Congressional staff should appropriately handle information from whistleblowers. Titled “Key Practices for Congress to Consider When Receiving and Referring Information,” the report focuses on what happens when federal whistleblowers reach out to their representatives in Congress, whether in the House or Senate, for help. The GAO produced the report on the request of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

One of the ways that Congress is able to fulfill its mandate for oversight of the federal government is through receiving and acting on whistleblower information. The GAO report notes that, “[w]hile data is not available on the number of whistleblower disclosures across Congress, a staff member at one congressional office said the office can receive hundreds of whistleblower disclosures every year.” Yet too often, those whistleblowers are retaliated against for bravely speaking up about waste, fraud, and abuse. Compounding the problem, the GAO report demonstrated some existing deficiencies in the process for whistleblowers to disclose their information.

Maya Efrati head shot
Maya Efrati

Crucially, the GAO noted the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of whistleblowers who come forward with information to Congress. Key practices highlighted in the report include that Congress should “Develop… [p]rotocols to keep disclosures secure and protected, while appropriately limiting access to information on a need-to-know basis.”

This includes not only handling of sensitive or classified information provided by the whistleblower, but also  the whistleblower’s own personally identifiable information, which is any details that could allow someone to trace that person’s identity. Whistleblowers often risk their careers and more when speaking up about what they know; no whistleblower should be placed in an even more precarious situation because Congress lacks appropriate processes and guidelines to help them.


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Four years after the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed take steps to streamline the FBI whistleblower program, the agency has not taken action, according to a program review.

The Government Accountability Office issued recommendations in 2015 to make improvements like shortening the time it takes to process whistleblower complaints.

So far, the agency has not:
  • Clarified regulations
  • Given complainants timeframes for returning decisions
  • Developed an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with requirements
  • Assessed the impact of efforts to reduce the duration of complaints or requirements


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Over the weekend the Daily Beast reported on a leaked draft investigative report that exposed the systemic failures in the flawed intelligence community whistleblower program. According to this report, late last year the Trump Administration put a lid on the finalization of an investigation of the whistleblower program failures by the Inspector General for all intelligence agencies. 
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Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its report on the current effectiveness of the IRS whistleblower program. Since 2007, over 1,300 whistleblowers have filed claims with the IRS Whistleblower Office alleging tax fraud (in excess of $2 million) against 9,540 "taxpayers." The IRS is still investigating 8,254 (86.5%) "taxpayers" for tax fraud. The GAO

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OSHALast week the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General’s office issued a report finding that most of the Department’s whistleblower investigations are flawed. The IG’s office reviewed investigative files of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which has responsibility to enforce the employee protections of 17 federal statutes. It found that OSHA dismissed 77% of the whistleblower complaints. In 21% of cases, the complainant withdrew the complaint, either with or without a settlement. That left 2% of cases in which OSHA found the complaint had merit. This is not a rate that would encourage employees to come forward with concerns that might provoke retaliation.

The study examined a sample of the files for compliance with eight essential components of an investigation. These components are things like interviewing the complainant, documenting that interview, asking for witnesses, interviewing the witnesses, visiting the site, allowing the complainant to respond to the employer’s claims, and conducting a closing conference. “These elements are essential to the investigative process to ensure that complainants receive appropriate investigations,” the report states at page 3. Compliance with these standards ranges from 54% (conducting face-to-face visits, or a site visit) to 85% (holding a closing conference). The IG concluded that 80% of the investigations failed to meet one or more of the eight essential elements. 


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