GAO study: Whisteblower protections still weak

Whistleblowers reporting illegal activities aren’t adequately protected from employer retaliation, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report requested earlier and rolled out Thursday by House Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller, D-Martinez; Workforce Protections Subcommittee chairwoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The GAO’s review of Occupational Health and Safety Administration whistleblower-protection data – the first such probe in about 20 years – found that of the more than 1,800 cases the agency looked at in 2007, only 21 percent of all investigations resulted in a favorable outcome for whistleblowers. And due to inadequate tracking of all complaints, the actual proportion of favorable outcomes may actually be lower.

“OSHA faces two key challenges—it lacks a mechanism to adequately ensure the quality and consistency of investigations, and many investigators have said they lack some of the resources they need to do their jobs, including equipment, training, and legal assistance,” the GAO found, right down to things so simple as laptops, cell phones and portable printers.

Miller said it’s “deeply troubling” that workers still face retaliation for reporting fraud and other serious matters. “With the enormous investments now being made to save or create jobs, and the reforms intended to shed Wall Street of its culture of reckless greed, waste and mismanagement, we must protect workers who come forward at great risk trying to save lives and stop corruption.”

Woolsey said workers are fired and blacklisted every day for exposing violations of federal law. “While a handful are lauded in the press for their actions, most whistleblowers face a lifetime of hardship for their willingness to speak up. This is unacceptable. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the committee, along with our partners in the Senate, to develop a streamlined and efficient review process that protects the rights and reputations of those brave enough to speak out.”

Woolsey said she intends to re-introduce legislation soon to expand and simplify protections for private-sector workers who expose employers’ illegal actions, already-established protections for employees who report violations of critical food safety, drug safety, consumer protection, environmental protection, health care, and homeland security laws.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • BGR

    Since you may one sooner than you think, the House version of legislation concerning rights of press to withhold sources does not protect bloggers.