WASHINGTON, DC--A small federal office charged with reviewing employee reports of waste, fraud and abuse is drowning in intakes and falling further behind each month, according to official and internal agency figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, federal employee disclosures of government wrongdoing are languishing, waiting months or years before allegations are reviewed.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is charged with reviewing reports by federal employees of official misconduct and then overseeing investigation of credible charges. By law, OSC must determine whether a disclosure merits investigation within 15 working days; due to mounting backlogs however, most reports sit for more than six months and many have sat for years. According to figures compiled from OSC's latest annual report and workload numbers through June 2003,
The number of federal employees blowing the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse has increased by nearly half since October 2001, with 555 employee disclosures of wrongdoing filed in FY 2002;
The backlog of pending disclosures has more than doubled since 2001 with 628 whistleblowers awaiting review as of June 2003. More than two thirds of those cases are still pending more than six months after receipt;
The seriousness and merit of the reports appears to be on the rise, with more disclosures referred for investigation and fewer closed due to insufficient justification.
"Hundreds of federal employees risk their careers to blow the whistle, only to find that no one is home to hear it--it's like dialing 911 and being put on hold," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents employees who have filed whistleblower disclosures. "The whistleblower disclosure program could be a very important vehicle for rooting out corruption and government malfeasance but that vehicle is idling in the garage."
The post of Special Counsel is now vacant. The Bush Administration has nominated Scott Bloch for the position; he is a lawyer with limited whistleblower experience who is now the deputy for "Faith-based Initiatives" at the Justice Department. OSC currently has fewer than eight full-time staff reviewing all federal whistleblower disclosures. Recent whistleblower disclosures filed with OSC have ranged from multi-million dollar fraud and airline safety violations to serious security breaches at sensitive facilities.
"Given his lack of experience and his conservative record, we are not hopeful that Scott Bloch will be an aggressive advocate for whistleblowers serving within the Bush Administration," Ruch added. "Without a strong signal that disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse will be pursued, whistleblowers who seek timely action may be well advised to bypass the Special Counsel."