3.5 Whistleblower Protection
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Assistant Secretary for Administration, Office of Human Resources (OHR), Workforce Relations Division (WRD) oversees the coordination and implementation of HHS’s Certification Program for Whistleblowing and Prohibited Personnel Practices (PPP). HHS has over 70,000 employees located throughout the United States and in at least 12 international locations.
HHS’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) established the Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman (WPO) as required by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. WPO’s comprehensive webpage includes rights and remedies of potential whistleblowers as well as responses to frequently asked questions. It also contains links to the OIG Hotline, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). See http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/whistleblower/.
HHS first obtained certification from OSC in 2015 and will continue to renew and satisfy all certification requirements every 3 years. HHS’s certification establishes that all employee are informed of their rights and remedies under Whistleblowing and PPP provisions.
The overall plan for obtaining and maintaining certification standards for HHS includes coordination with seven servicing human resources offices. This team approach is required considering the number and locations of HHS employees throughout the world.
The points of contact from each Operating Division (OpDiv) gather information on their current procedures, and receive training on the certification program as well as their role. They also coordinate requirements for OpDIV compliance. The designated contact is responsible for ensuring compliance for the areas and locations served, and for reporting to OHR annually.
Information is maintained on HHS’s Intranet page under the “Whistleblower Protection” section and includes educational resources, contact information, and links to the OSC and other relevant websites. See OSC’s Outreach, Training, and Certification Program, and other related links, at https://osc.gov/Pages/Outreach-2302Cert.aspx.
An email blast is sent annually from the Secretary, or his/her designee, to all employees informing them of their rights and remedies. The email includes links to information required for distribution under the certification program (e.g., Your Rights as a Federal Employee, Know Your Rights When Reporting Wrongs, etc.). It also informs all managers and supervisors of PPPs, and the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), as well as training requirements and a link to required training. A notification system has been set up through the HHS Learning Portal ensuring that training is provided to, and completed by, supervisors and managers every 3 years.
In addition to HHS’s plans, OIG has obtained its own certification from OSC. The OIG has demonstrated its commitment to protecting whistleblowers within HHS by establishing a WPO as required by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012. The WPO has established a webpage with contact information at http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/whistleblower/ and with frequently asked questions (FAQs) at http://oig.hhs.gov/faqs/whistleblower-faq.asp. The FAQs include information about the rights of potential whistleblowers and the remedies available to them if they experience retaliation. They also include direct links to the OIG Hotline, the Merit Systems Protection Board, http://www.mspb.gov/appeals/whistleblower.htm, and OSC (http://www.osc.gov/) which has primary jurisdiction over complaints alleging whistleblower reprisal. In June 2013, the OIG notified HHS employees about the WPO via email using HHS’s blast email system. That email included a link to the WPO webpage and the email address at which the WPO can be contacted. The OIG also requested that the HHS ethics counselors forward this email to all Special Government Employees for which they are responsible.