Federal employee whistleblower protections: Two tales of dysfunction

The General Office of Special Reviews of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of the Inspector General is looking into activities at the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). The Government Executive news site helps sort all that out.

And the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), where federal workers seek redress from retribution, is basically shut down. The Washington Post has something to say about that.

Last week brought these two tales of dysfunction in the systems that are supposed to protect federal whistleblowers.


The Government Executive offers a thorough report on an investigation into the OAWP, a program designed to protect whistleblowers. The office “is now facing allegations of aiding retaliation against them.”

The story tells the tale of a VA hospital engineer in Indiana who said he was punished for reporting contracting problems. He is quoted saying he was working undercover for the IG. But once OAWP got involved, the whistleblower’s supervisors learned of his cooperation.

The article offers this history and VA comment.

Trump created OAWP by executive order in 2017 and later codified it when he signed the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act into law. The office was mostly celebrated, with advocates hopeful that the focus on the rights and protections for whistleblowers would reverse a culture infamous for intimidation and reprisal. That optimism has largely soured, however, leading to hotline tips to the inspector general and bipartisan scrutiny from Congress.

“There has been considerable interest by some members of Congress and other stakeholders in this effort,” said Mike Nacincik, the IG spokesman, who said he could not comment further on ongoing work.

The article quotes a VA spokesman defending the agency, but acknowledging that there are areas for improvement. He said the agency welcomes the Inspector General’s oversight.

VA employees quoted in the story disagreed.

They described feeling betrayed or neglected by an office they believed was going to help them but ended up doing the opposite.


The Indiana VA whistleblower also reports that he tried to work through the Merit Systems Protection Board. But he believes that process is also compromised. That’s more bad news for federal whistleblowers. The Washington Post’s federal government columnist Joe Davidson offers his opinion under this headline: Federal appeals board: Better defunct or with Trump appointees?

The three-member MSPB had been limping along with only one member, not a quorum, for all of President Trump’s time in the White House. That was until Feb. 28, the day the last member’s term expired.

Now the board is lifeless, a victim of the Senate’s dereliction of duty. It could confirm two nominees at any time. They have been approved at the committee level, but Senate leaders refuse to allow a vote on them until Trump nominates a third.

Meanwhile, the agency’s 2,000-case backlog continues to grow. Federal employees will have waited years for the resolution of their cases once the MSPB is revived from its moribund state.

Additional Resources:

March 6, 2109: Yet another try to confirm MSPB board nominees. Then, on to a 2,000-case backlog.

November 2012: Federal Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act Becomes Law


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