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GAO Reports Weaknesses in DOL OSHA Whistleblower Program and Provides Recommendations

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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress its findings on the OSHA whistleblower program in its report titled “Whistleblower Protection: Sustained Management Attention Needed to Address Long-standing Program Weaknesses.”  The GAO concludes that OSHA has neglected its whistleblower program and has failed to implement GAO’s prior recommendations.  Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), and Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) responded to the GAO report with a press release stating:

The GAO found that for the last two decades, the Labor Department has not provided adequate management attention to the whistleblower program. The independent watchdog agency said the program’s training for investigators and their supervisors is inconsistent from region to region, that internal controls are lacking to monitor compliance with policies and procedures, and that few of the GAO’s previous recommendations from 2009 have been implemented.

The GAO also noted that despite an increased workload over the years, the number of inspectors has remained relatively flat, and urged the program establish a separate budget for the whistleblower program. In fiscal year 2009 more than 2,100 whistleblower complaints were filed with OSHA.  Congress provided the Labor Department with funds for 25 additional whistleblower investigators in fiscal year 2010 to deal with a growing caseload.

In the report, the GAO provides the Secretary of Labor with the following recommendations for strengthening its whistleblower program:

To improve program performance and oversight, we are recommending that the Secretary of Labor require OSHA to take several actions:

  • Ensure that all investigators complete mandatory training. 
  • Require staff who supervise investigators to complete the mandatory investigator training. 
  • Track whistleblower program expenses, including FTEs, separately from other OSHA programs, and annually report these expenses to Congress. 
  • Develop an action plan, with specific milestones, for addressing identified internal control weaknesses. This plan should include mechanisms for strengthening the whistleblower national office’s control over the program. 
  • Incorporate strategic goals specifically for the whistleblower program into Labor’s strategic plan, and develop performance measures to track progress in achieving these goals.

For more information about The Employment Law Group® and its Whistleblower Law Practice, click here.

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