GAO: Size of Whistleblower Backlog Increasing

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that “the backlog of whistleblower and prohibited personnel practices cases at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel nearly doubled between 2011 and 2016, despite sustained efforts to tackle it.”

The report, released on Monday, found that “a sustained backlog puts OSC’s ability to fulfill its mission of protecting federal employees at risk.” GAO pointed to previous findings by OSC, which argued in its 2017 Performance and Accountability Report that “a longer backlog risks further delay for processing newly received cases,” while “lengthy processing times delay attaining desired favorable actions and remedying wrongdoings.”

“Without timely resolutions, whistleblowers may be discouraged from filing whistleblower disclosures,” the report suggests.

GAO found that “the number of whistleblower and PPP cases received by the OSC increased by 66 percent during the five-year period.”

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“OSC and agency officials believe that the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 likely contributed to the increase. The act amended federal personnel law to, among other things, clarify the breadth of disclosures that are afforded protection, expand the right to bring reprisal claims for certain protected activities, and enhance the remedies available to federal whistleblowers who have suffered retaliation,” GAO says in the report.

According to Jessie Bur at Federal Times, “The time to process those filings has also increased, with whistleblower disclosures taking an average of 29 days, nearly three times as long as they did in 2011, and PPP filings taking 97 days, over two weeks longer than in 2011.”

Part of the problem appears to be frequently granted requests for extended time periods, in addition to the established 60-day response window.

“The median number of days between when the referral letter was sent to the agency and when the initial agency response was received by OSC was 169 days, and 33.8 percent (23 of 68) took more than 200 days,” the report said. “OSC has discretion in approving these requests, however, and whistleblower advocacy representatives told us that OSC could use its case closure letters to the president and Congress to apply pressure on agencies to respond more timely to allegations. OSC officials told us that their preference is to give agencies the needed time to complete investigations.”

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