By James L. Curtis and Meagan Newman
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this week that it is creating a Whistleblower Ombudsperson position. According to the DOJ news release, “Whistleblowers play a critical role in uncovering waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.” This new position will enable the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) “to continue its leadership as a strong and independent voice within the Department of Justice on whistleblower issues.”
The Whistleblower Ombudsperson will focus on “training and educating employees within the DOJ about the role and importance of whistleblowers in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the Department’s operations, as well as their legal rights and protections against retaliation.” The Whistleblower Ombudsperson also will be responsible for alerting Department officials and managers to the possible repercussions of retaliation against those who make protected disclosures. In addition, the Whistleblower Ombudsperson will:
- Ensure that whistleblower complaints are reviewed and addressed by the OIG in a prompt and thorough manner;
- Communicate with whistleblowers about the status and resolution by the OIG of those complaints;
- Monitor investigations of retaliation claims that are within the jurisdiction of the OIG; and
- Serve as the OIG liaison to other U.S. Agencies and to nongovernmental whistleblower organizations and advocacy groups.
The DOJ’s announcement can be seen as a political response to the Fast and Furious whistleblower debacle. However, it must also be reviewed in light of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s push toward more merit findings in favor of whistleblowers and the Department of Labor’s position to that government is not doing enough to protect whistleblowers. It follows a trend that private employers are also following–designating a person/office to oversee handling of whistleblower complaints internally. There are obvious benefits to doing so in that it shows that the employer is committed to whistleblower protection and encourages employees to raise concerns.