The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) handles claims of wrongdoing within the executive branch of the federal government from current federal employees, former employees, and applicants for federal employment. (For purposes of this section, former and current employees, and applicants for federal employment are all “employees.”) The OSC unit responsible for this work is the Disclosure Unit.
The Disclosure Unit reviews five types of disclosures specified in the statute:
- Violation of a law, rule, or regulation;
- Gross mismanagement;
- A gross waste of funds;
- An abuse of authority; and/or
- A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
Federal law establishes a unique process for disclosures made to OSC. This process is intended to guarantee the confidentiality of the whistleblower and ensure that wrongdoing is investigated and corrected. In brief, when a whistleblower disclosure is filed with OSC:
- The Special Counsel may order an agency head to investigate and report on the disclosure;
- After the investigation, the Special Counsel may send the agency’s report, the whistleblower’s comments, and the Special Counsel's determination as to the completeness and apparent reasonableness of the agency report, to the President and congressional oversight committees; and
- The information transmitted to the President may be made public on OSC's website.
OSC does not have independent investigative authority in these cases. However, Congress has given OSC an important oversight role in reviewing government investigations of potential misconduct.
The system can be beneficial to improving government operations in two ways. First, based upon a complaint by a whistleblower, OSC may require an agency to investigate the alleged wrongdoing, even if it is reluctant to do so. Second, OSC provides an important accountability and quality control function in the investigative process. The whistleblowers, who are commonly experts on the subject matter of the allegations, are invited to comment on the quality of the agency investigation and corrective actions prescribed. OSC also maintains a dialogue with the investigating agency to make sure that the actions taken are reasonable and address the concerns raised by the whistleblowers.