Feds bring record-breaking number of cases to OSC in 2014

More federal employees turned to the Office of Special Counsel last year to report whistleblower retaliations and other personnel violations than ever before.

OSC received 5,237 cases last year, a 17 percent jump from the number of matters it received in 2013, according to the agency’s annual report to Congress. OSC resolved 4,666 cases in 2014, fewer than the 4,833 matters it resolved the year before.

The Federation of American Scientists first obtained OSC’s report.

The agency told Congress it expects to be even busier next year and predicted it will receive more than 6,000 new cases in fiscal 2015, a 60 percent increase over the average annual case load for the past 10 years.

Carolyn Lerner, U.S. Special Counsel
Carolyn Lerner, U.S. Special Counsel

“OSC already faces the largest case backlog in agency history, and addressing this backlog is critical to OSC’s ability to protect employees from retaliation and to respond to disclosures of wrongdoing, which continue to be received in disproportionately high levels from employees at the VA,” Carolyn Lerner, U.S. Special Counsel, wrote in a letter to Congress.

The number of prohibited personnel practices (PPPs), which OSC spends the bulk of its time handling, also has reached a new high, with 3,371 new complaints in 2014.

The agency also was more successful in prompting corrective or disciplinary action against officials who commit PPPs. OSC posted a 15 percent increase in the number of corrective action matters on behalf of federal employees. For example, a recent OSC investigation found Army officials discriminated against one transgender employee, when they used male pronouns and refused to call her by her preferred female name.  The Army agreed to implement a training program to prevent discrimination in the future.

In another case, OSC discovered the National Resources Conversation Service improperly hired six employees, and the Office of Personnel withdrew a special hiring authority for the NRCS.

A tough year for the VA, victories for whistleblowers

Employees at the Veterans Affairs Department filed more complaints than any other agency — 1,504 of them.

“With modest reinforcements to our staff in FY 2014 to respond to the increase in VA claims, OSC achieved landmark settlements on behalf of numerous VA employees who suffered retaliation after disclosing significant threats to patient care at medical centers throughout the country,” Lerner wrote to Congress.

Several complaints from whistleblowers at the VA sparked loud reactions from House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and other members of Congress. OSC responded to reports from three doctors who disclosed mistreatment of patients, understaffing and other cases of fraud at Veterans Affairs medical centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Jackson, Mississippi.

“OSC will continue to work with the VA to provide expedited relief to employees, hold managers accountable for retaliation, and respond to whistleblower concerns about ongoing threats to patient care,” the report said.

Whistleblower disclosures increased governmentwide by 37 percent in 2014,  agency leaders investigated a record 92 cases last year. OSC scored 177 favorable decisions for whistleblowers in 2014.