Section 7 of the Inspector General Act requires the OIG to maintain the confidentiality of federal whistleblowers under the same terms as required under the WPA.
Section 7 has three basic components.
First, it permits federal employees to raise concerns to the Inspector General regarding violations of law, an abuse of authority or mismanagement. Subsection “a” states as follows:
- The Inspector General may receive and investigate complaints or information from an employee of the establishment concerning the possible existence of an activity constituting a violation of law, rules, or regulations, or mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety.
If a federal employee makes a disclosure to the Inspector General regarding potential violations of subsection “a”, their identity must be kept strictly confidential, and only a very narrow exception would apply. The confidentiality provisions state:
- The Inspector General shall not, after receipt of a complaint or information from an employee, disclose the identity of the employee without the consent of the employee, unless the Inspector General determines such disclosure is unavoidable during the course of the investigation.
In addition to protecting an employee’s right to confidentiality, the Inspector General Act also strictly prohibits any reprisal against any employee who raises a protected concern with the Inspector General. The statute states as follows:
- Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority, take or threaten to take any action against any employee as a reprisal for making a complaint or disclosing information to an Inspector General, unless the complaint was made or the information disclosed with the knowledge that it was false or with willful disregard for its truth or falsity.
Thus, under the Inspector General Act a federal employee may confidentially raise a concern about a waste, fraud, abuse and violations of law. The law also prohibits retaliation based on these disclosures.
Taking a reprisal against an employee who confidentially makes a protected disclosure is also prohibited as whistleblower retaliation. See Inspector General Act, §§ 7(c) and 8H(i)(C).
The prohibitions against disclosing the identity of a whistleblower who makes a protected disclosure are not limited to the OSC or the Inspector General as the offices receiving the whistleblower’s report of wrongdoing.
Rather, these confidentiality provisions apply government-wide through the applicability of other laws, such as the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. §552a, which prevents the disclosure of any personal information about a person or government employee within a government system of records without that person’s consent. The Privacy Act provisions apply to all whistleblower disclosures and prevent the public release of the whistleblower’s identity by any agency or government official and the Privacy Act contains both civil and criminal penalties if it is violated.