With whistleblowing in Washington now being headline news, a look at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publication "Whistleblower Protection" is timely. This report which provides taxpayers and politicians with an analysis of the Department of Defense's actions to improve both case timelines of issues raised and safeguard the confidentiality of whistleblowers who raise complaints about the Department of Defense. In general, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DODIG) and the military service offices of the Inspector General (IG) met some but not all of the fiscal year 2018 timeliness and quality goals for handling the massive number of whistleblower complaints that were made throughout the year.
Here is a graphic showing how the Department of Defense processes whistleblower complaints:
Note that complaints about the Department of Defense come in from two sources; the DOD hotline which passed complains to DODIG and the military service IG hotline which passes complaints to the military service inspector general.
Here is a table showing the protections that are in place for civilian, contractor and military personnel whistleblowers at the Department of Defense:
These protections have been put into place to encourage whistleblowers to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. Protection for whistleblowers' confidentiality is codified in federal law under the Inspector General Act of 1978 which restricts both DODIG and the Inspector General from disclosing a whistleblower's identity without the consent of the whistleblower unless it is unavoidable.
In fiscal 2018, DODIG's hotline received 12,470 contacts from potential whistleblowers related to fraud, waste, abuse employee misconduct or other violations. Of these, 3,872 were referred to other entities for inquiry, unfortunately, as you will see in this posting, many of these will remain unresolved. Over the past five years, the number of whistleblower reprisal cases reported by DODIG increased from 1,013 to 2,002, an increase of 98 percent. Between the years 2013 and 2018, a total of 95,613 complaints with DODIG were registered. Let's put that number into context – 5 years with a forty hour work week and a 48 week work year results in a total of 9600 working hours. If you divide the number of working hours in a five year period into the 95,613 complaints, it works out to just under ten complaints every working hour.
Let's look at the timeliness of DODIG's response to whistleblower allegations, paying particular attention to the investigations that senior official misconduct and what percentage of those complaints were handled in a timely fashion:
During fiscal 2018, DODIG did close 73 investigations including 13 senior official misconduct cases and 60 military, contractor and civilian reprisal cases leaving 85 percent of all cases not meeting the timeliness goals. There are several reasons for DODIG's inability to meet its timeliness goals including the assumption of all sexual assault victim reprisal cases, the number of high-priority senior official cases concurrently open and the increasing scope and complexity of investigations.
Here is a graphic showing how many days it took for DODIG to complete its investigations of senior official misconduct and military, contractor and civilian reprisal cases for fiscal 2018:
Here is a graphic showing the timeliness of military service Inspector General senior official misconduct and reprisal investigation for the four branches of the military:
As you can see, only the Marine Corps Inspector General met to 180 timeliness goal and only for investigations involving misconduct by senior Marine Corps officials.
Let's take a brief look at issues of whistleblower confidentiality with one of the biggest problems being that whistleblower's data is available to personnel without a need to know. Here is a table showing the accessibility issues identified by DODIG:
Here is a table showing the accessibility issues identified by military service Inspector Generals:
Between 2013 and 2018, DODIG identified 8 substantiated violations of whistleblower confidentiality and the Army IG identified 6 substantiated violations of whistleblower confidentiality. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Inspector Generals were unable to provide data for such incidents since incidents of this type are not tracked. Interestingly, in a survey of DODIG employees, 17 percent of respondents were aware that the identity of a complainant was avoidably disclosed by a fellow employee to an organization or individual without a need to know. It's obvious that in both cases, employees access to sensitive whistleblower's information is not restricted to the point where confidentiality is maintained.
The existence of a Department of Defense hotline for reporting complaints is an interesting idea, however, the GAO report suggests that very few of these reports by whistleblowers are handled in a timely fashion and that whistleblowers face risks when reporting misdeeds by their employer and the military hierarchy. As well, according to another GAO report from fiscal 2015, 1,094 out of 1,197 or 91 percent of whistleblowers' complaints closed by DODIG between fiscal 2013 and 2015 were closed without any investigation. This suggests that the Department of Defense is either ill-prepared or doesn't care about any complaints that it receives about its operations, spending or senior personnel.
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