Know Your Rights When Reporting Wrong

A summary of how to report waste, fraud or abuse to the Office of Inspector General for the US Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors,  including rights and protections for Department employees and contractors

 


IG Linick: The Office of Inspector General Hotline is a clearinghouse for receiving and handling allegations regarding fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement or misconduct affecting Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governor programs and operations. OIG’s 24-hour Hotline allows employees and contractors to report problems – anonymously, if necessary – and help us in our efforts to ensure the agencies run as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Scene: a State Department employee at his workplace

Employee (ISP 1): A few months ago, I got a new job at the State Department as an executive assistant. I love my work, but I am worried about the actions of my boss. I noticed that the cost of his travel vouchers is inconsistent, and some of them were for dates when he was on leave. He sometimes asks me to prepare and submit his travel vouchers using his calculations, and I’m worried that I may get into trouble. What should I do? 

Scene: a contract employee at her desk

Contractor (AUD 1): I’ve worked for several different federal contractors.  But I’m starting to lose sleep over what’s happening at my current employer. The higher-ups noticed that the State Department’s contracting officer never scrutinizes our invoices, so they started to add costs that I know are not justified. This has been going on for nearly a year, and I feel like I need to do something about it. But I’m also worried about what will happen to me if I raise the issue. I’ve got a long career ahead of me, and I don’t want to be known as the person who got everyone in trouble or have to change career paths.

Cut to the employee looking at the OIG poster.

Employee (ISP 1): Maybe I should call the OIG hotline. That might be a good place to start. (picks up the phone)

Split screen: Employee and OIG official both on phone

OIG Official (INV 1): Hello, thank you for calling the Department of State, Office of Inspector General Hotline. How may I help you?

Employee (ISP 1): Hi, I have some concerns about my supervisor’s travel vouchers. Is this the right number to call?

OIG Official (INV 1): If you want to report fraud, waste, or abuse, this is the right number to call. What are your concerns?

Employee (ISP 1): I think my boss may be filing false travel vouchers. But he is a senior executive. Can I file an anonymous report?

OIG Official (INV 1): Yes, you can, but it may limit our ability to investigate the travel fraud and to follow up with you. You could instead request confidentiality, in which case we will not release your identity outside the Office of Inspector General, except in the rarest of circumstances—if ordered by a court, for example.

Employee (ISP 1): But even if I request confidentiality, I’m worried that he will figure out who gave you the information and may try to fire me. Your poster says I am protected from retaliation.  Can you tell me more about it?

OIG Official (INV 1): Yes, the law protects federal employees from reprisal if they report a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement or waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. Agencies are prohibited from taking a personnel action, such as a poor performance review, demotion, suspension, or termination, because the employee disclosed the wrongdoing.

Employee (ISP 1): I may not have the detailed information about all his travel vouchers. What if I am wrong about this being improper?

Official (INV 1): You are protected from reprisal, as long as you have a reasonable belief that the actions are improper, even if that later turns out to be incorrect.

Employee (ISP 1): Ok, so if I decide to make a report, what is the next step?

OIG Official (INV 1): Typically, an OIG employee will contact you to gather more information. After that, we will review the material you provided and determine if we need to investigate further.

Employee (ISP 1): If I do experience retaliation, will you also investigate that?

OIG Official (INV 1): We will investigate the wrongdoing you report, and there is a separate federal agency— the Office of Special Counsel—that is charged with investigating reprisal against whistleblowers. It can help you enforce your rights.

Employee (ISP 1): Where can I find more information online?

OIG Official (INV 1): Please check out our website at: oig.state.gov (Text of website is shown at bottom of screen)

Employee (ISP 1): Thank you for your help. (hangs up phone)

Cut to: Contractor viewing the OIG hotline page. 

Contractor (AUD 1): I need to figure out what my options are to deal with this issue, because continuing to lose sleep over this is not one of those options. Here’s a number I can call. (picks up the phone, as phone number is shown as text at bottom of screen)

Split screen: Contractor and OIG Official both on phone

OIG Official (INV 2): Hello. Thank you for calling the Department of State, Office of Inspector General Hotline. How may I help you?

Contractor (AUD 1): Hi. I’m an employee of a contractor, and I know that my company has been padding invoices by over-charging the State Department for work we did not perform. Is this the correct office to talk to about it?

OIG Official (INV 2): Yes. Submitting false invoices is fraud, and this is the place to report fraud, waste, or abuse. Can you please tell me more about this situation?

Contractor (AUD 1): Before I do, I want to make sure that I am protected. I don’t want my employer to retaliate against me because “anonymous” is not always “anonymous.” People always seem to know.

OIG Official (INV 2): I understand your concern, and we can offer you anonymity or confidentiality to help protect your identity. Also, federal law prohibits retaliation against employees who report a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; gross mismanagement or waste of funds; an abuse of authority; or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. 

Contractor (AUD 1): Really? I thought that only federal employees were provided with protection, but not contractors.

OIG Official (INV 2): The law was changed in 2013. Now employees of federal contractors, subcontractors, and grantees are protected against reprisal if they are demoted, discharged, or discriminated against as a result of reporting wrongdoing.  But unlike federal employees, the Office of Inspector General investigates whether reprisal against contractor and grantee employees occurred, and, if so, the contractor or grantee will be required to remedy the situation, such as reinstatement or payment of back pay.

Contractor (AUD 1): That’s great to hear, but I need some time to think about what I want to do. If I decide to file a report, what do I need to do? 

OIG Official (INV 2): You can call us back at this number or fill out an online form at oig.state.gov/hotline, which is actually the best way to ensure we receive the details we need. 

Contractor (AUD 1): Ok, thanks for your help. (hangs up phone)

Cut to: OIG Official at desk

OIG Official (INV 2): As you saw, we’ve just talked to some folks who may have knowledge of fraud, waste, or abuse at the State Department. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please contact the Office of Inspector General. You can call us at 800-409-9926 or find more information on our website at oig.state.gov/hotline. We often rely on information provided by whistleblowers to address serious wrongdoing and misuse of taxpayer funds. Being a whistleblower is rarely easy, but it is an important public service. Please consider doing your part to protect the integrity of the important work of the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. 

(IG in voiceover): To learn more about your rights, please contact the OIG Whistleblower Ombudsman at WPEAOmbuds@stateoig.gov. (e-mail address is shown as text at the bottom of the screen).  Thank you.