[Editor’s Note: A reader recently submitted this article to us in a comment.]
Whistleblowers are essential for Inspectors General to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse. A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found significant inconsistences in how civilian, contractor, and intelligence whistleblower allegations are handled by the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG).
The report is a slog—reviewing policies in place but not always whether they’re actually being implemented or if they are effective. But the GAO’s interviews with investigators and supervisors reveal that the processes for reviewing whistleblower cases are inconsistent at best, raising questions about whether the office can fairly and appropriately handle those who come forward with allegations of misconduct.
While DoD IG appears to be the place Department of Defense whistleblowers who experience retaliation should go, DoD IG declines to pursue the vast majority of the complaints they receive. DoD IG is actually only the primary investigative body for DoD contractor, subcontractor, grantee, and subgrantee whistleblowers, non-appropriated fund instrumentality (NAFI) whistleblowers, and civilians under the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System (DCIPS). DoD IG refers most military whistleblowers to their military service IGs for investigation, with oversight by DoD IG. Most DoD civilians (those paid through appropriated funds) have their cases dismissed. DoD IG expects, and usually instructs, DoD civilians not under the DCIPS to turn instead to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency responsible for protecting the merit system and enforcing many provisions of the Whistleblower Protection Act. In some cases the DoD IG may choose to hold on to a case if it “may be of interest.” DoD IG’s guide to filing a reprisal complaint says this includes reprisal involving senior officials, security classification, matters within the intelligence community, or DoD IG sources. DoD IG told GAO cases they would investigate themselves could also include sexual assault.
From fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2015 DoD IG dismissed without investigation 91 percent of the civilian, contractor, and subcontractor complaints it received. The GAO found a number of significant weaknesses in DoD IG’s processes for declining cases. Interviewing complainants is key and a best practice, since most whistleblowers never thought they would become whistleblowers and consequently don’t know the standards and evidence necessary to show they have a potential reprisal case. Yet, the GAO found DoD IG declined 63 percent of the cases for which they are the primary investigative body (which GAO refers to as “non-discretionary”) without interviewing the whistleblower. Moreover, a quarter of the declined cases the GAO reviewed “were declined for reasons inconsistent with DODIG guidance and the reasons DODIG officials told us may warrant a case being declined.”
Whistleblowers go to IGs expecting them to be honest brokers of the law, particularly for laws designed to protect sources who advance their investigations. Unfortunately this report doesn’t give them much confidence their allegations about waste, fraud, and abuse will ever receive due consideration.