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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced the recipient of the 2021 Special Counsel Public Service Award. The recipient, a whistleblower who chose to remain anonymous, disclosed to OSC that a software flaw at the U.S. Treasury Department resulted in nearly $92 million in uncollected debts owed to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSC is a safe channel for whistleblowers to disclose wrongdoing and is statutorily required to maintain the confidentiality of a whistleblower's identify if they so choose. The whistleblower's allegations in this case were substantiated, resulting in significant corrective action to fix the software problem and recoup funds owed to the government.
“Each year, OSC recognizes the courage of a whistleblower who speaks up to disclose a problem," said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “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. Because of this brave whistleblower's actions, millions of dollars are being reimbursed to the government for the full benefit of American taxpayers."
The debts, comprising nearly 11,000 delinquent fines owed by employers for workplace safety violations, were referred to Treasury for collection on behalf of OSHA. An anonymous whistleblower alerted OSC to a software problem, alleging it resulted in Treasury's failure to collect the debts. OSC referred the matter for investigation by the U.S. Treasury and Labor Departments, and both substantiated the allegations [Treasury report, Labor report]. The investigations also revealed that the software problem impacted debt collections by Treasury for 12 additional federal agencies, unrelated to OSHA.
The investigative reports recommended substantial corrective actions in response to their findings. Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service has already corrected the software issue and is now collecting all OSHA debts and any other agency debts affected by the error. Both Labor and OSHA also updated their debt-collection procedures for monitoring and transferring debts.