World's Biggest Whistleblower Agency Has Fewer than 80 Staff

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

World's Biggest Whistleblower Agency Has Fewer than 80 Staff

Congress Heaps on New Whistleblower Jurisdiction without Resources to Implement

WASHINGTON - Over the past decade, Congress has charged the U.S. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration with enforcing far-reaching new
whistleblower laws, including this year's health care law, consumer
product safety rules, and corporate malfeasance safeguards, but has not
provided funding or staff to protect millions of workers from
retaliation for reporting violations, according to an analysis released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a
result, OSHA's whistleblower program is hopelessly overwhelmed, lacking
in programmatic leadership and adrift.

Since 1970 when it was
created, OSHA has been mandated to police the prohibition against
employers retaliating against workers who report health and safety
violations and dangers. Over the next 40 years, Congress enacted 17
other whistleblower provisions covering complex pollution, energy
production, and transportation laws, among others, for OSHA
implementation and oversight. Recent examples include:

  • The
    Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, covering 12 million
    health care workers;
  • The Consumer Protection Safety
    Improvement Act of 2008, covering 20 million workers involved in
    manufacture, labeling, distributing, and retailing products; and
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to control corporate fraud, covering 42
    million financial workers.

Altogether, OSHA's whistleblower
jurisdiction has grown by a staggering 75 million workers in just the
past decade, nearly doubling its previous coverage. These numbers
exclude the estimated 115 million workers already covered by the
whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety & Health Act of
1970 - OSHA's main responsibility.

By contrast, the number of
OSHA staff assigned to investigate worker reprisal complaints has
remained virtually static: 69 investigators, 8 supervisory investigators
and 1 manager, according to a 2009 Government Accountability Office
(GAO) report that faulted oversight and management of the program.

"OSHA has no hope of competently executing these vast duties with
fewer resources to cover the nation's entire workforce than those
available to a typical big county prosecutor's office," said PEER Policy
Director Erica Rosenberg, pointing out that OSHA whistleblower coverage
has grown by more than 1 million workers for each investigator just
since 2000. "This yawning disparity inevitably leads to unconscionable
and illegal delays, shoddy reviews, unmanageable caseloads and poor
outcomes for workers. Thus, workers who risk their jobs to report
serious dangers and major violations will, in effect, find nobody home
at OSHA."

Unfortunately, the whistleblower protection program
does not appear to be on the radar of the agency's leadership. A 2010
draft strategic plan for OSHA makes no mention of whistleblower
protection, even in the summary of the agency's mission statement. In
its report, GAO also noted that the whistleblower protection program
does not even have its own budget but is subject to the whims of
regional administrators who divvy up an enforcement budget for an array
of labor violations.

"Whistleblower protection at OSHA is not
just on the back burner, it has fallen off the stove," stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that for workers without access to
lawyers, these OSHA investigations are usually the only shield against
unemployment and blackballing. "Clearly, additional resources are
needed but so are vision and commitment from OSHA's leadership."

Tomorrow, May 11th, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational
Safety and Health David Michaels will speak on this topic at a forum
entitled "Whistleblowers and OSHA: Strengthening Professional Integrity"
sponsored by Professionals for the Public Interest at the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave., N.W.,
Washington, D.C. beginning at 12:30 pm.

 

Look
at the PEER analysis of soaring growth in OSHA whistleblower
jurisdiction

Compare OSHA's
abysmal whistleblower record

See GAO report on lack of
resources and oversight of OSHA whistleblower program

View
new OSHA strategic plan that omits mention of whistleblower program

Find out about
David Michaels' appearance tomorrow to discuss OSHA's whistleblower
program

###

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

More in: