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Whistleblower Protection

Whistleblowers perform an important service by reporting what they reasonably believe to be evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement. DHS employees, contractors, subcontractors, grantees, and personal services contractors are protected by law from retaliation for making a protected disclosure. In accordance with the Inspector General Act, as amended, the DHS OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator educates DHS agency employees, contractors, grantees, and personal services contractors about whistleblower protections and employees’ rights and remedies against retaliation for protected disclosure. The law does not permit the Whistleblower Protection Coordinator to act as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for current or former employees.

If you have questions, please contact the DHS OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator at whistleblowerprotectioncoordinator@oig.dhs.gov.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The information below explains who and what is covered as a Whistleblower.

Information for DHS Employees

  • What is a protected disclosure?
    • A disclosure by a DHS civilian employee is protected if there is a reasonable belief that wrongdoing has occurred in one of the following areas:
      • Any violation of any law, rule, or regulation;
      • Gross mismanagement;
      • Gross waste of funds;
      • Abuse of authority; or
      • A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
    • A disclosure is also protected if an individual:
      • Exercises any appeal, complaint, or grievance right granted by law, rule, or regulation;
      • Testifies for or assists an individual in the exercise of an appeal, complaint, or grievance right;
      • Cooperates with or discloses information to the Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, or any other component responsible for internal investigation or review; or
      • Refuses to obey an order that would require a violation of law, rule, or regulation.
  • Who are the authorized audiences for the protected disclosure?
    • The law does not specify to whom a disclosure must be made to constitute the disclosure protected. However, classified disclosures must be handled in accordance with the law. This process is outlined in the Frequently Asked Questions section below.
  • What is whistleblower retaliation?
    • The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) was established to ensure that employees who engage in protected disclosure are free from fear of reprisal for their disclosures. Whistleblower retaliation is the taking, failing to take, or threatening to take a personnel action because of an employee’s whistleblowing.
  • How to report retaliation for whistleblowing
    • If you are a DHS employee, you may submit a retaliation complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) or through the OIG Hotline. OSC has primary jurisdiction over retaliation complaints for most federal employees, including all DHS employees filing WPA complaints. OSC has unique authorities, including the ability to seek a temporary stay of a pending personnel action, and can seek a corrective action on your behalf when warranted.
    • You may also file a union grievance, if applicable.
    • Allegations of reprisal regarding EEO matters generally should be addressed through the EEO process.
    • In certain instances, an employee who has experienced retaliation because of a protected communication may file an appeal directly with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Personnel actions that are directly appealable to the MSPB include adverse actions, retirement appeals, performance-based removals or reductions in grade, denials of within-grade salary increases, reduction-in-force actions, and denials of restoration of employment rights.

Information for DHS Contractors, Subcontractors, Grantees, and Personal Services Contractors

  • What is a protected disclosure?
    • A disclosure by a DHS contractor, subcontractor, grantee and personal services contractor is protected if there is a reasonable belief that wrongdoing has occurred in one of the following areas:
      • Gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant;
      • Gross waste of Federal funds;
      • Abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant;
      • Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or
      • Violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant.
  • Who are the authorized audiences for the protected disclosure?
    • A disclosure by a DHS contractor, subcontractor, grantee and personal services contractor is considered protected if it is communicated to any of the following entities:
      • Congress;
      • The Office of Inspector General;
      • 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.
    • Classified disclosures must be handled in accordance with the law. This process is outlined in the Frequently Asked Questions section below.
  • What is whistleblower retaliation?
    • Under 41 U.S.C. § 4712, an employee of a federal contractor, subcontractor, grantee or personal services contractor may not be retaliated against for making a protected disclosure of information. Retaliation includes the taking of a personnel action, the failure to take a personnel action, or the threat to take or fail to take a personnel action, which adversely affects the whistleblower.
  • How to report retaliation for whistleblowing
    • A DHS contractor, subcontractor, grantee or personal services contractor may submit a complaint through the OIG Hotline within three years of learning of the retaliatory personnel action. For more information about whistleblower protections for such employees, please consult the informational brochure prepared by the OIG.

Information for Uniformed Coast Guard Members

  • What is a protected disclosure?
    • A disclosure by a Uniformed Coast Guard member is protected if there is a reasonable belief that wrongdoing has occurred in one of the following areas:
      • A violation of law or regulation, including a law or regulation prohibiting rape, sexual assault, or other sexual misconduct;
      • Gross mismanagement;
      • Gross waste of funds;
      • An abuse of authority;
      • Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or
      • A threat by another member of the armed forces or employee of the Federal Government that indicates a determination or intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury to members of the armed forces or civilians or damage to military, Federal, or civilian property.
  • Who are the authorized audiences for the protected disclosure?
    • A disclosure by a Uniformed Coast Guard member is considered protected if it is communicated to any of the following entities:
      • Congress;
      • The Inspector General;
      • Any person or organization in the chain of command;
      • A court-martial proceeding;
      • Any other person or organization designated pursuant to regulations or other established administrative procedures for such communication; or
      • Testimony, or otherwise participating in or assisting in an investigation.
  • What is whistleblower retaliation?
    • As a member of the Uniformed Coast Guard, no person may take or threatened to take an unfavorable personnel action or withhold a favorable personnel action as a reprisal against making, preparing, or being perceived as making or preparing a protected disclosure. These protections are available to members of the armed forces under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA, 10 U.S.C. § 1034).
  • How to report retaliation for whistleblowing
    • Uniformed Coast Guard members may submit a complaint through the OIG Hotline no more than one year after learning of the retaliatory personnel action.

Information for Reporting Retaliatory Security Clearance Action

  • What is a protected disclosure?
    • A disclosure by a DHS employee with a security clearance or eligibility for access to classified information is protected if there is a reasonable belief that wrongdoing has occurred in one of the following areas:
      • A violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation;
      • Gross mismanagement;
      • Gross waste of funds;
      • Abuse of authority; or
      • A substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.
    • A disclosure is also protected if an individual:
      • Exercises any appeal, complaint, or grievance right granted by law, rule, or regulation;
      • Testifies for or lawfully assists an individual in the exercise of an appeal, complaint, or grievance right; or
      • Cooperates with or discloses information to the Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, or any other component responsible for internal investigation or review.
  • Who are the authorized audiences for the protected disclosure?
    • A disclosure by a DHS employee with a security clearance or eligibility for access to classified information is considered protected if it is communicated to any of the following entities:
      • A supervisor in the employee’s direct chain of command;
      • The Inspector General of the employing agency or Intelligence Community Element;
      • The Director of National Intelligence;
      • The Inspector General for the Intelligence Community; or
      • To an employee designated by any of the above officials for receiving such disclosures.
  • What is whistleblower retaliation?
    • Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19) and 50 U.S.C. § 3341 make it unlawful for an agency to take any action affecting an employee’s eligibility for access to classified information in reprisal for making a protected disclosure.
  • How to report an action affecting your security clearance that was taken in reprisal for whistleblowing
    • If you believe an action affecting your security clearance was retaliatory, you may submit a reprisal complaint to the OIG Hotline.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I file a classified report of wrongdoing or complaint of retaliation?
    • A disclosure of waste, fraud, or abuse that includes classified information is not a protected disclosure under the whistleblower laws unless the disclosure is made in accordance with the law and rules that govern the proper handling and transmission of classified information. For example, you are not protected when disclosing classified information to an unauthorized recipient, even if you reasonably believe the information is evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse.
    • You can make protected disclosure of classified information to the DHS OIG, but the information may NOT be sent using the DHS OIG’s unclassified hotline. You may only submit complaints involving classified information using the following Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) E-mail: DHSOIGHotline@DHS.IC.GOV. This email address is not live and will not work from unclassified systems. If you are unable to send an email to the above account or need more information on how to properly provide classified information to the DHS OIG, please contact the DHS OIG’s hotline at 1-800-323-8603 (unsecured line/toll free)/TTY: 1-844-889-4357 (unsecured line/toll free).
    • Additionally, section 8H of the Inspector General Act sets forth a detailed process for employees in the Intelligence Community who intend to provide classified information to Congress. Prior to initiating a report of classified information under section 8H of the Inspector General Act, employees should carefully review the Inspector General Act’s provisions and may contact the DHS OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator for further information.
  • May I keep my identity confidential?
    • Yes. The OIG has a Hotline that allows employees to make confidential complaints and disclosures. Offices of Inspectors General are prohibited from disclosing an employee's identity without the employee's consent unless the OIG determines the disclosure is unavoidable or is compelled by a court order.
    • If you file a disclosure with OSC, your identity will not be shared outside OSC without your consent.
  • What relief might be available to an employee who was retaliated against for blowing the whistle?
    • If a DHS OIG investigation substantiates your claim of whistleblower retaliation, relief or remedies may be available. These may include job restoration, reversal of suspensions and other adverse actions, back pay, and/or reasonable and foreseeable consequential damages.