Office of the Inspector General (OIG)

Whistleblower Protection

Disclosures by whistleblowers can save lives and taxpayer dollars.  Broadly speaking, Federal whistleblower law is designed to protect NARA employees and applicants who speak out against illegal, wasteful, and dangerous practices and who cooperate with or disclose information to, among others, the NARA OIG or the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).  The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA) requires some Inspector's General to designate a "Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman (WPO)."  The NARA OIG has designated the Counsel to the IG as the WPO in the spirit of the WPEA.  The WPO's role is to educate NARA employees about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures; and their rights and remedies against retaliation for protected disclosures.

This page and the linked information accessible from this page are designed to serve as an educational tool for NARA employees about whistleblowing protections. 

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency who's primary mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing.  OSC has various informational videos on whistleblowing and whistleblower rights and protections which can be found at https://osc.gov/Pages/videos.aspx.

Limits On The WPO

The law does not permit the WPO to act as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for NARA employees.  The WPO provides information to allow individual employees to make their own choices about the particular situation they are in.

WPO Contact Information

NARA employees can obtain information about whistleblower issues by contacting the NARA OIG WPO at:

Email: whistleblower.ombudsman@NARA.gov
Phone: 301-837-1966

What Is A Whistleblower?

A "whistleblower" discloses information they reasonably believe 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 

Commonly Asked Questions

What are your rights as a Federal employee when you report wrongdoing?

Read "Know Your Rights When Reporting Wrongs"

Where can a NARA employee report wrongdoing?

NARA employees have many options on where to disclose wrongdoing, including but not limited to, making disclosures to supervisors or someone higher up in management; NARA's Office of Inspector General (OIG); the Office of Special Counsel (OSC); or, Congress. For whistleblower disclosures involving classified national security information or other information protected from public release by law (e.g. patient privacy information), whistleblowers must use confidential channels such as an OIG, OSC, or Congress in order to be protected from adverse personnel actions related to their disclosures.  However, special rules apply and whistleblowers should seek guidance from one of those offices well before doing anything with classified national security information or other information protected from public release.

What are the legal prohibitions on retaliation?

Federal Whistleblower Protection law prohibits retaliation when an employee or applicant for employment makes:

  • a protected disclosure; (5 U.S.C. § 2302 (b)(8)), and/or if an employee:
    • exercises any appeal, complaint or grievance rights to remedy retaliation for a protected disclosure, or testifies for or otherwise lawfully assists another person in such rights;
      lawfully cooperates with or discloses information to an  Inspector General or the Special Counsel;
    • or refuses to obey an order that would require the individual to violate the law. (5 U.S.C. § 2302 (b)((9))

In order to fall within the scope of whistleblower protections, you must show that:

  • You made a protected disclosure (5 U.S.C. § 2302 (b)(8)) or engaged in a protected activity 5 U.S.C. § 2302 (b)(9));
  • An acting official used authority to take, or fail to take (or threaten to take or fail to take), a personnel action against, or threatened to take such action against you;
  • An acting official had actual or constructive knowledge of the disclosure or activity; and
  • A disclosure or activity was a contributing factor in the personnel action.

What is the legal definition of "disclosure"?

A "disclosure" under the law (5 U.S.C. § 2302(a)(1)(D)) means a formal or informal communication or transmission, but does not include a communication concerning policy decisions that lawfully exercise discretionary authority unless the employee or applicant providing the disclosure reasonably believes that the disclosures evidences--

(i) any violation of any law, rule, or regulation; or

(ii) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

What type of disclosure is protected under whistleblower protection law?

Protected whistleblower disclosures under 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8) include "reasonable belief" there is:

  • a violation of any law, rule, or regulation
  • gross mismanagement: substantial risk of significant adverse impact on mission
  • a gross waste of funds: significantly out of proportion to benefit/more than debatable
  • abuse of authority: an arbitrary decision for personal gain and/or to injure others
  • a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety

"Reasonable belief" means a disinterested observer with knowledge of the essential facts known to and readily ascertainable by the employee or applicant could reasonably conclude that the actions of the agency official evidence such violations, mismanagement, waste, abuse, or danger.  It excludes rumors, speculation, and nonspecific allegations (e.g., "harassment," or "fraud").

What is considered to be whistleblower retaliation?

When an agency official authorized to take or direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action takes, fails to take, or threatens to take a personnel action because of an employee's protected whistleblowing.  Examples of personnel actions may include:

  • A non-promotion
  • A disciplinary action
  • A detail, transfer, or reassignments
  • An unfavorable performance evaluation
  • Any decisions concerning pay, benefits, or awards
  • Any other significant changes in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions

Read about Whistleblower Retaliation from the OSC.

What are my rights if NARA takes actions affecting my eligibility for access to classified information in retaliation for making a protected disclosure?

Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD 19) - Protecting Whistleblowers with Access to Classified Information prohibits retaliation against employees who are eligible for access to classified information.  It provides special appeal rights to those employees who have their access to classified information affected, or threatened to be affected, for whistleblowing.   NARA Directive 273, Administrative Procedures for Security Clearances, spells out the appeals procedure for whistleblowers.  In short, if an  employee believes their security clearance was revoked or denied in reprisal for making a protected disclosure, they may raise this allegation as part of their initial written reply.  Then the matter is referred to the OIG, who conducts a review to determine whether the action was in reprisal for making a protected disclosure, and makes a recommendation to the Archivist. The Archivist considers the findings and recommendation of the Inspector General, and issues a written decision.  To the extent authorized by law (including the Back Pay Act), corrective action may include, but is not limited to, reinstatement, reassignment, reasonable attorney's fees, other reasonable costs, back pay and related benefits, travel expenses, and compensatory damages.

An employee who has exhausted the review processes outlined above may request an external review by a three-member Inspector General panel chaired by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. If such a request is made, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community shall decide whether to convene the External Review Panel, and if so, shall designate to other panel members from the Inspectors General of the following agencies: Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Energy, and Homeland Security and Central Intelligence Agency.  If the External Review Panel determines the individual was the subject of reprisal for making a protected disclosure, the panel may recommend the Archivist take corrective action to return the employee, as nearly as practicable and reasonable, to the position such employee would have held had the reprisal not occurred and that the Archivist reconsider the employee's eligibility for access to classified information. The Archivist considers the recommendation of the External Review Panel, and issues a written decision. 

Do employees, contractors, subcontractors, and grantees of NARA have whistleblower protection rights?

The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act grants some whistleblower protections to employees of contractors, subcontractors, and grantees.  This is effective for contracts, grants, and task orders awarded on or after July 1, 2013.  The civilian agency provisions have been codified at 41 U.S.C. 4712, are implemented in FAR 3.908, and are set to expire January 1, 2017.

Reprisal is prohibited and is defined as discharging, demoting, or otherwise discriminating against an employee of a contractor, subcontractor, or grantee in response to a disclosure of information that the employee reasonably believes is evidence of:

1. A gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant,
2. A gross waste of Federal funds,
3. An abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant,
4. A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or
5. A violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant.

These types of disclosures are protected if made to a Member of Congress or a representative of a committee of Congress, an Office of Inspector General (OIG), the General Accountability Office, a Federal employee responsible for contract or grant oversight or management at the relevant agency, an authorized official of the Department of Justice or other law enforcement agency, a court or grand jury, or a management official or other employee of the contractor, subcontractor, or grantee who has the responsibility to investigate, discover, or address misconduct.

Any person who believes they have been reprised against may file a complaint with the relevant OIG within three years of the alleged reprisal.  If the IG makes a determination the complaint is frivolous, fails to allege a violation of the relevant prohibitions, or has previously been addressed in another Federal or State judicial or administrative proceeding, then the OIG does not need to do anything further.  If the IG does not make such a determination, the OIG will investigate the complaint and issue a report to the complainant, the contractor or grantee, and the head of the agency.

Within 30 days after receiving an IG's report, the head of the agency makes a determination whether there is sufficient basis to conclude that the contractor, subcontractor, or grantee has subjected the complainant to a reprisal prohibited by the statute.  The head of the agency either denies relief or orders certain actions by the contractor or grantee. 

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