Whistleblowers play an important role in safeguarding the federal government against fraud, waste, and abuse. In 2013, a pilot program expanded the whistleblower rights of contractors at civilian agencies against reprisal (such as firing or demotion). For example, the program expanded the persons and entities to which a whistleblower can disclose misconduct.
However, we found that some agencies did not forward investigations to the appropriate authorities, and that some contractors were unaware of the pilot program.
GAO's in-depth review of four selected departments' implementation of the pilot program found various opportunities for improvement. Specific details follow:
The pilot program requires findings of investigated reprisal complaints to be forwarded to several entities, including to the agency head for a determination of whether reprisal occurred and, as of December 2015, to the head of the contracting activity. However, at two of the four departments reviewed, the OIGs either did not forward their investigation findings to the appropriate entities or did not forward findings in the necessary format because, according to OIG officials, they were unclear about how to execute the requirement. As a result, at these two departments, the agency heads did not make the determination of whether reprisal occurred as required by the pilot program.
Contracting officers must insert the required Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) whistleblower clause to be inserted into contracts exceeding the simplified acquisition threshold, which is generally $150,000, as a method to communicate with contractors about pilot program requirements. However, while the four selected departments reported that they inserted the clause into the required contracts, GAO found new contracts awarded during the pilot program's timeframe that did not include the required clause. Without effective internal control policies, agencies may continue to omit the required clause.
Some contractors GAO spoke with were unaware of their obligations under the pilot program. Officials from all four departments reported taking no additional action to communicate to contractors their responsibilities to inform employees of their rights under the pilot program. This is inconsistent with federal internal control standards for communication. Without actions to help contractors fully understand their responsibilities under the pilot program, the departments do not have assurance that contractor employees are also aware of the protections afforded by the pilot program legislation.