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Gov't Report Slams Labor Dept. Program to Protect Whistleblowers

Flaws in the Labor Department's whistleblower protection program leave workers unprotected from reprisal, according to a new watchdog report.

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration — the federal agency responsible for worker safety — isn’t adequately protecting whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers, according to a report (PDF) released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office.

OSHA’s whistleblower protection program, which is responsible for “receiving and investigating most whistleblower complaints filed by nonfederal workers,” hasn’t gotten enough attention from the agency, the report said.

“We found that OSHA has done little to ensure that investigators have the necessary training and equipment to do their jobs, and that it lacks sufficient internal controls to ensure that the whistleblower program operates as intended,” it concluded.

The Center for Public Integrity reported in July that claims of reprisal from whistleblowers were, for the most part, dismissed by OSHA’s whistleblower protection program. From CPI:

Since Congress passed the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform law in 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor upheld 25 whistleblower claims under the law — and tossed out 1,066 claims, according to figures available through June 30. That translates into a winning percentage of little more than 2 percent for workers seeking whistleblower status.

At the time, OSHA chief David Michaels told CPI he was “concerned with the statistics,” and had ordered a “top-to-bottom review” of the program.

He mentioned the review again in a statement responding to the GAO’s report.

“With our available resources, OSHA is working hard to ensure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation,” Michaels said. He added that OSHA had begun taking action on some of the GAO’s recommendations, and was studying others.

The GAO report comes at a time when Congress is trying to encourage more whistleblowing. The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, for instance, contained a provision promising greater incentives to individuals blowing the whistle on violations of securities law.

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