OSC on pace for record number of whistleblower disclosures

The Government Accountability Project's Tom Devine The Government Accountability Project's Tom Devine C-SPAN photo

The Office of Special Counsel is projecting a record number of reported incidents from whistleblowers in fiscal 2012, despite a small dip in fiscal 2011, an OSC spokeswoman told Government Executive.

Through the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, OSC -- the independent federal agency responsible for investigating claims brought forth by whistleblowers -- has received 847 disclosures, putting the agency on pace for 1,129 by the close of fiscal 2012 on Sept. 30. That would mark a 22 percent increase from fiscal 2011 and an all-time high for incidents reported in a single year.

After years of rapid growth in the number of disclosures from whistleblowers to OSC, fiscal 2011 saw a 3 percent decrease from the previous year, the first such decline since 2006, according to the agency's annual report.

The fiscal 2011 statistic is simply an outlier from an otherwise upward trend, OSC spokeswoman Ann O’Hanlon said.

“We’ve more than doubled the number of disclosures since 2006,” she said, “so we’re clearly working with record numbers. I don’t think one year tells you any kind of overall story.”

Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy group, said the decrease in fiscal 2011 could be attributed to a lack of leadership in the office, as there was a gap between the resignation of the previous director, the disgraced Scott Bloch, and its current chief, Carolyn Lerner.

“The general opinion in the whistleblower community is that the office was dormant,” Devine said, adding, “I would have predicted a much sharper drop during that particular year.”

Despite the record numbers, a November 2011 report from the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent, quasi-judicial agency that serves to protect federal employees, found there has been no progress in the past 20 years in reducing the anxiety feds feel about blowing the whistle on potential waste or abuse.

“Perceptions of retaliation against those who blow the whistle remain a serious concern,” MSPB wrote in the report. “In both 1992 and 2010, approximately one-third of the individuals who felt they had been identified as a source of a report of wrongdoing also perceived either threats or acts of reprisal, or both.”

Joe Newman, a spokesman for Project on Government Oversight, a good government group, said the Obama White House could be discouraging would-be whistleblowers.

“We’ve seen some heavy-handed tactics by this administration,” he said. “We’re far away from how we would like to see whistleblowers treated.”

Devine argued OSC has taken major steps in the right direction under its new leadership.

“The agency is operating with more cylinders now than any time since its creation,” he said. “It’s day compared to night.”

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