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Report: IG's Disregard for Whistleblowers 'Shameless'

By Ed O'Keefe

Despite being "one of the most important stakeholders" of the federal government's 64 offices of inspector general, whistleblowers are often considered "afterthoughts" by the federal government's watchdogs responsible for compiling and investigating their concerns, according to a new report by the Project on Government Oversight. As federal IGs are reaping the benefits of more funding and public attention, the report suggests they need to do more to spread the word about their work.

Whistleblowers' complaints are often ignored or "receive short shrift" from OIG employees, according to the report.

"It has long been POGO's experience, as well as that of many whistleblower attorneys contacted by POGO, that generally IGs are at best irrelevant to whistleblowers and at worst are part of the problem." One reason may be because IGs do not have the legal authority to force agencies to take corrective actions, the report suggests.

If citizens attempt contact with an inspector general, the report suggests they likely face difficulties making basic contact via telephone or the Internet.

"It is surprising and rather disappointing that some of the largest departments have only the tiniest, faintest link to their IG's home page, while several very small and frankly obscure agencies have easily found links that jump off the agency home page," according to the report. The Eye's recent independent review of IG Web sites supports these claims, revealing vast inconsistencies in accessibility, design and ease of use.

Many IGs outsource their call centers, forfeiting total control of telephone operators. When POGO staffers called the IG hotlines for the Defense and Transportation departments, the same operator at a third-party call center answered the phone. "The hotline operators -- local college students, according to one IG who uses the service -- also simultaneously handle the hotlines for several private companies."

Read more about this report and see what the IG community has to say about it in Monday's Washington Post.

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POGO's report also urges IGs to embrace a more public, press-friendly attitude when performing investigations.

"If an IG is doing his or her job exposing or even preventing waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct, then we want to hear about it. An IG report falling silently in the forest is just a waste of trees."

This is POGO's second annual report on the mission and effectiveness of inspectors general and it includes feedback from most of the federal government's 64 OIGs. Last year's report raised concerns about their political independence. Despite its criticisms, this year POGO gives generally favorable reviews to the overall mission and culture of IGs.

"This is not a broken system, but we do think there are new ways of thinking about IGs," said POGO executive director Danielle Brian.

"IGs are on the ascendancy, with the stimulus and stimulus board and SIGTARP, everyone recognizes the importance of the job," Brian said, adding later that IGs should "Focus on having an impact. Make sure that your IG office doesn’t focus on output but outcome."

And Brian suggests IGs should regularly answer the question: "Am I really looking at the big picture?”

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By Ed O'Keefe  | March 20, 2009; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  Oversight, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

What was the response from some of those 64 OIGs to this report? Shows a lack of interest in the subject if the POGO report was summarized and websites confirmed. Shows a lack of willingness to examine the subject and determine if POGO actually conducted a good report. This article is only half done.

Posted by: iossiander | March 20, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

While employed at HHS, I filed eighteen OIG disclosures for fraud, waste and abuse. I was never notified of the outcome. I wrote letters to the OIG requesting the outcome and my requests were ignored. I sent several FOIA requests and the estimated charge to me was $10,144 for the work to find the responses to my FOIA requests. The bottom line, I was removed from Federal Service for violating policies that never existed.

Posted by: stellamaris | March 20, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I recently advised my management of some waste and abuse (a big boondoggle that was coming up). Given that we'd just been advised of a $1 million budget gap we were facing in operating cost, you would think every little bit would help. Did they do anything? Nope. Boondoggle still on schedule--if they don't care, why should we?

Posted by: hcpf | March 20, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Great report...it is right on target. To learn more about fraud, corruption, and waste you need to go to the OSHA Underground. OSHA is responsible for handling acts of retaliation against employees that report matters to the IG.
Please subscribe to http://oshaunderground.blogspot.com/

"Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day."

Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: rscottlewis | March 20, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

@ rscottlewis.

No, OSHA is not the agency to report all fraud, waste and abuse. OSHA handles Occupational Safety and Health only.

For many of us satellite DoD activities outside the beltway and without a Union, we have ZERO, Nothing, Zilch! Oh! there is an EEO office, but it is managed by the local Navy Commander (how many honest reports get filed?). And we have the 800 hotline that is about as worthless as calling a Verizon rep for my telephone line.

Obama Admin needs to get OUT of the office and white house and visit some of us outside the beltway and talk with workers there WITHOUT management hovering! Otherwise, life goes on the same and nothing changes!

Posted by: darmar40 | March 23, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

There is a Gap in Whistleblower, Harassment and EEOC Laws because they do not provide "Immediate Relief" for employees. IG, President and Congress need to take a step further and actually protect employees from further harm once a complaint is filed. Since I did not receive an adequate response from IG and Congress, I started a website WWW.WORKADVOCATE.COM to urge Congress to pass laws requiring Federal Agencies to provide employees with "Immediate Relief" from harm by allowing the employee to transfer, detail, reassign or work in another environment based on the employees desire and qualifications. I thought that the Federal Government had a responsibility to protect an employee from further harm once a complaint is filed.

Posted by: Arquilla1 | March 23, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

The OIG at VA is corrupt as well as the others. Government at every level in this country is wasting, full of fraud and people who try to fix it get hurt. Its not worth reporting if nothing gets done and the "whistleblower" is just that...blown off or out!!! The Congress and the White House will do nothing in a timely manner to fix the problem....they are part of the problem!!

Posted by: jag136 | March 23, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

On March 11, the State of Illinois introduced the first Anti-Bullying Bill HB374 called the "The Healthy Workplace" Bill. However, The Bill only protects state workers. If "We the People" take a stand, things can change. But we have to be willing to take a stand for the values that we believe in. So, how about helping U.S. Congress pass a Bill for federal workers. Don't Federal employees deserve a "Healthy Workplace" Bill also? The Federal budget is much larger than state budgets so the Federal Government should want a "Healthy Workplace" Bill, which will save taxpayers money by keeping Federal workers mentally and physically healthy.

Posted by: Arquilla1 | March 25, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

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