House Passes Office of Special Counsel Reauthorization With Whistleblower Protections

The House on Tuesday voted to reauthorize the Office of Special Counsel for five years while strengthening its authority to extract information and documents from agencies while investigating alleged retaliation against whistleblowers.

The Thoroughly Investigating Retaliation Against Whistleblowers Act (H.R. 4639) was introduced by Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, a member of the House Whistleblower Protection Caucus, and cleared the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in April.

It would give the independent agency that probes reports of prohibited personnel practices “access to any record or other information of any agency under its jurisdiction,” give the OSC 30 additional days to review a disclosed prohibited practice and expand other agency obligations to report on any follow-up actions taken in response to an OSC investigation.

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Additionally, the bill would codify the right of the Special Counsel to terminate investigations that are duplicative or outside its jurisdiction.

But the OSC itself would be handed new obligations to report details of the costs and duration of its investigations and the resulting corrective actions. The agency would have to publicly disclose—with permission, in non-criminal matters—comments by a complainant along with the agency’s response. OSC would also be tasked with conducting a pilot survey of individuals who file complaints or disclosures and use results to improve customer service.

Finally, the bill states that “penalties for violations of Hatch Act prohibitions against engaging in political activities may include a combination of the disciplinary actions and the civil penalty prescribed under current law.”

A similar Senate bill (S. 2968) cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in May, though it includes provisions beefing up the OSC’s procedures for handling allegations of OSC wrongdoing coming from its own employees.

The OSC, which has absorbed internal criticism for allegedly closing whistleblower complaints too quickly to boost productivity, is being examined by the Government Accountability Office.

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