U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC)
Federal law generally prohibits personnel actions taken, not taken, or threatened against a federal employee because of the employee’s disclosure of information that he or she reasonably believes evidences a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety (5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8). In addition, an employee’s right to “furnish information to either House of Congress, or to a committee or Member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied” (5 U.S.C. § 7211). Subject to certain exceptions, federal law also protects the identity of an employee who makes such a protected disclosure to OSC or an agency inspector general (IG) (5 U.S.C. § 1213(h)).
The President signed into law two pieces of legislation changing the requirements that apply to agencies on issues surrounding prohibited personnel practices: Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 20171 and Office of Special Counsel Reauthorization Act of 2017, which was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA).
Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017. The Kirkpatrick Act makes it a prohibited personnel practice to access an employee’s medical records in furtherance of whistleblower retaliation. Additionally, it establishes mandatory disciplinary penalties for supervisors who engage in whistleblower retaliation. It also enhances agencies’ obligations to provide information to employees on whistleblower protections. New supervisors are now also required to receive training on responding to whistleblower retaliation complaints, increasing awareness of whistleblower protections.
Office of Special Counsel Reauthorization Act of 2017, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA). It clarifies that when complying with OSC’s information requests, federal agencies may not withhold information and documents from OSC by asserting common law privileges such as attorney-client privilege.
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