On September 22, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced that the recipient of the 2021 Special Counsel Public Service Award is a whistleblower who disclosed information about “a software flaw at the U.S. Treasury Department.”
“Each year, OSC recognizes the courage of a whistleblower who speaks up to disclose a problem,” Kerner said in the press release announcing the award. “This year’s recipient, who chose to remain anonymous, is well-deserving of this distinction. I want to thank this individual for coming forward to OSC with allegations that resulted in substantial corrective action.”
The whistleblower informed OSC that a software flaw at the Treasury Department “resulted in nearly $92 million in uncollected debts” that were owed to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the press release states.
According to a June 4, 2020 letter to the President from Special Counsel Henry Kerner, the whistleblower “alleged that neither Treasury nor OSHA officials took prompt action to correct a software error that prevented Treasury from collecting OSHA debts totaling approximately $79 million.” Kerner writes in the letter that a Treasury report corroborated the whistleblower’s claims and found “that the Fiscal Service failed to service 10,904 OSHA debts valued at $91.5 million.” The Treasury Department also “identified 12 additional agencies affected by the error.”
Additionally, the whistleblower alleged that “OSHA officials continued to pay certain collection fees to Treasury despite Treasury’s failure to take any action to collect the debts” — this allegation was later substantiated by the Treasury. According to the whistleblower, OSHA officials also began “recalling debts from Treasury that are three years old, preventing Treasury from attempting to collect them as required.” Both the DOL and the Treasury Department confirmed this allegation. The whistleblower’s disclosures prompted Treasury to conduct an audit on the Fiscal Service’s “management of its transition to the flawed software.”
Kerner’s letter concluded the matter, and he commented that both Treasury and the DOL “conducted thorough investigations and took prompt and appropriate corrective action in response to their findings.” One of these corrective actions is Treasury’s “quick action to begin collecting nearly $85 million of uncollected OSHA debts” and assessing the outstanding uncollected debts of 12 other agencies. He also praised the whistleblower “not only for the benefit of Treasury and Labor, but for the other agencies affected by mismanagement within these programs.”
“Because of this brave whistleblower’s actions, millions of dollars are being reimbursed to the government for the full benefit of American taxpayers,” Kerner said in the award announcement.
In the press release, OSC also reiterated that “OSC is a safe channel for whistleblowers to disclose wrongdoing and is statutorily required to maintain the confidentiality of a whistleblower’s [identity] if they so choose.”