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Highlights

Workers who "blow the whistle" on prohibited practices play a role in enforcing federal laws, but these workers risk reprisals from their employers. The Whistleblower Protection Program at the Department of Labor's (Labor) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for investigating whistleblowers' complaints. OSHA's decisions generally may be appealed to the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) and, ultimately, the Administrative Review Board (ARB). GAO examined (1) what is known about processing times for complaints and what affects these times, (2) what outcomes resulted, and (3) what challenges OSHA faces in administering the program. To answer these questions, GAO analyzed electronic data files from OSHA, OALJ, and ARB; visited five OSHA regional offices; reviewed case files; conducted a Web-based survey of investigators; and interviewed key officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Labor 1. In order to ensure the quality and consistency of the whistleblower program and to ensure that OSHA has reliable information to use to monitor the program, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to ensure that its new information system for tracking whistleblower complaints includes information on cases that are screened-out before they are investigated and the reasons for being screened-out.
Closed - Implemented
In October 2010, OSHA revised its information database to include a field for recording the number of screen-out whistleblower complaint cases, and case-specific reasons. In the same month, OSHA provided training to its users on this new feature.
Department of Labor 2. In order to ensure the quality and consistency of the whistleblower program and to ensure that OSHA has reliable information to use to monitor the program, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to establish a mechanism to ensure the data on whistleblower complaints are accurate and require that the National Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program holds regions accountable for the accuracy of the data.
Closed - Implemented
OSHA redesigned its Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) system to allow users to track screened-out cases and the status of complaints. The correct entry of data is part of OSHA's September 2011 Whistleblower Investigations Manual.
Department of Labor 3. In order to ensure the quality and consistency of the whistleblower program and to ensure that OSHA has reliable information to use to monitor the program, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to revise its field audit directive to clarify the criteria that regions must use in conducting focused and comprehensive audits.
Closed - Implemented
The criteria against which the Regional and Area Office whistleblower programs are audited is OSHA Instruction CPL 02-03-003, OSHA's Whistleblower Investigations Manual dated September 20, 2011.
Department of Labor 4. In order to ensure the quality and consistency of the whistleblower program and to ensure that OSHA has reliable information to use to monitor the program, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to revise its field audit directive to require that the audit be conducted by an entity outside the control of the regional administrator whose programs are being audited to ensure independence.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2010, OSHA issued a revised field audit directive that established that the Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis (DEA), an entity outside of the control of the regional administrator whose programs are being audited, will participate in all comprehensive, on-site audits of regional offices and in selected area office audits. GAO notes however, that because comprehensive, on-site audits of regional offices are not required and because it is unclear which, if any, area office audits will be selected for such reviews, the extent to which future audits will be conducted by an independent entity remains unclear.
Department of Labor 5. In order to ensure the quality and consistency of the whistleblower program and to ensure that OSHA has reliable information to use to monitor the program, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to revise its field audit directive to require that regions submit complete reports of the audit findings and recommendations to OSHA's national office upon completion of an audit, along with periodic updates on corrective actions taken.
Closed - Implemented
In September 2010, OSHA revised its field audit directive to require the regions to submit complete audit reports and, if applicable, corrective action plans - including interim steps taken - for national audit office review.
Department of Labor 6. In order to ensure the quality and consistency of the whistleblower program and to ensure that OSHA has reliable information to use to monitor the program, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to develop interim audit milestones that regions must meet in order to ensure that audits are completed within specified time frames.
Closed - Not Implemented
In September 2010, OSHA revised its field audit directive such that the regions are required to notify the national audit office immediately after an audit opening conference has occurred. However, OSHA has not yet developed interim audit milestones that the auditors must meet in order to ensure that the audits are completed in specified time frames.
Department of Labor 7. In order to ensure that all investigators have the necessary equipment and computer software resources, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to establish minimum standards for equipment and computer software that investigators need to do their jobs, and develop a mechanism to ensure these needs are met .
Closed - Not Implemented
OSHA completed its purchase of new laptops for all agency staff, including whistleblower staff, in fiscal year 2012. However, OSHA has not yet established minimum standards for equipment and computer software that investigators need to do their jobs.
Department of Labor 8. The Secretary of Labor should direct the ARB to conduct routine, systematic, independent reviews of its case tracking system in order to ensure that it has accurate and reliable information to use to monitor the program.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Administrative Review Board's (ARB) new docket system has data validation rules, ad hoc reporting functionality and audit trails for data recovery, but the ARB has not conducted independent reviews of its case tracking system.

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