The Progressive


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For Immediate Release
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Labor Department Whiffs on Whistleblower Reform

Internal Review Prescribes Mish-Mash of Minor Repairs, Avoids Structural Defects


A long-awaited internal review of the
troubled U.S. Labor Department whistleblower protection program
essentially endorses the status quo despite a series of scathing reports
by government and outside analysts, according to Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). According to PEER, which released a
copy today, the internal review does not even consider major changes
urged by Congress and others, most prominently that the whistleblower
program become autonomous rather than remain a collateral function
buried inside the Occupational Safety & Health Administration

Commissioned back in April 2010, this "top-to-bottom" review became the
principal response by OSHA to blistering reports recently issued by the
Government Accountability Office and Labor's own Inspector General. Yet
the review fails to address complaints about woefully ineffective OSHA
stewardship of the program, which is supposed to protect millions of
workers who report violations under 21 statutes. Several of these
statutes were added just last year in major food safety, health care and
Wall Street reform bills.

The review also ignored the findings of an internal survey which
reflected strong employee sentiment for a separate or autonomous
whistleblower program. PEER has sued OSHA to obtain full survey results
which the agency paradoxically claims are "pre-decisional". Among
concerns voiced by employees are -

  • Top OSHA management is hostile or indifferent to the
    whistleblower program, characterized as "anti-leadership" by one
    whistleblower advocacy group;
  • The whistleblower program has no budget. There is not even a
    line item to track expenses or personnel, although the review does
    recommend that the program finally get a line item; and
  • The program is run out of the OSHA regional offices as a side
    duty. The whistleblower protection function is not even mentioned in
    the OSHA Strategic Plan or "Vision" statement.

"Reading this confusing, cramped review by
OSHA managers makes a compelling case why OSHA should no longer run this
vital but neglected program," stated PEER Executive Jeff Ruch, who led a
call in July by whistleblower groups for Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to
create a separate whistleblower office, outside of OSHA, to which the
Secretary has yet to substantively respond. "The review lays out a menu
of conflicting and ultimately unsatisfying options - and there is no
daily special."

This fall, without public announcement, the Labor Department proposed
splitting the whistleblower program, shifting coverage for all but
workplace safety laws out of OSHA. That plan was vetoed by the White
House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) which countered that the
program should not be split up. As a result, the program appears to be
stuck where it is, at least for another year.

"As Congress piles on new whistleblower laws and responsibilities, the
Labor Department shrinks away from providing resources and management
tools needed to fulfill this expanding mission," Ruch added. "The
mishandling of this challenge represents a serious leadership breakdown
by Labor."


See the final OSHA top-to-bottom report

Compare the blistering GAO and IG reports

Look at the aborted plan to break up the whistleblower program

View a Congressional call for a study of autonomous whistleblower program

Read Secretary Solis' response to PEER letter calling for a separate office

Trace the explosion in Labor's whistleblower jurisdiction

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.