No one should ever be subject to or threatened with reprisal for coming forward with information regarding wrongdoing involving U.S. Department of Education (Department) funds, programs and operations. In fact, it is unlawful for any personnel action to be taken against you because of whistleblowing. Federal laws protect and provide remedies for employees of certain entities that receive Department funds and for Department employees, former employees, and applicants for employment who disclose information they reasonably believe evidences wrongdoing and who subsequently suffer negative actions. Below you will find information about whistleblower protections.
If you have questions about whistleblower protections, please contact the OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen to the Eye on ED podcast episode about whistleblower protections.
This section applies to you if (1) you do not work for the Federal government, (2) you are an employee of a Department contractor, subcontractor, grantee, subgrantee, or a personal services contractor, and (3) you believe your employer has retaliated against you because you disclosed wrongdoing.
Federal law protects you when you make a disclosure with a reasonable belief that the information evidences:
- a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Department contract or grant;
- gross mismanagement of a Department contract or grant;
- a gross waste of Department funds;
- an abuse of authority related to a Department contract or grant; or
- a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
Who’s the audience for my disclosure?
The law protects you only if you make your disclosures to a member of Congress, or a representative of a committee of Congress; an Inspector General; the Government Accountability Office; a Federal employee responsible for contract or grant oversight or management at the relevant agency; an authorized official of the U.S. Department of Justice or other law enforcement agency; a court or grand jury; or a management official or other employee of the contractor, subcontractor, grantee, or subgrantee who has the responsibility to investigate, discover, or address misconduct.
Complaints must be filed within 3 years from the date your employer retaliated against you.
Where can I file a complaint?
You may submit a whistleblower complaint to the OIG Hotline.
This information applies to you if (1) you are a current or former Department employee, or (2) you applied for a job with the Department, and (3) you believe an agency official acted against you by taking, not taking, or threatening to take or not take a personnel action because you disclosed wrongdoing.
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA) prohibit Federal agency officials from taking, not taking, or threatening to take or not take a personnel action (e.g., poor performance review, demotion, suspension, reassignment) against employees or job applicants who disclose information with a reasonable belief that the information evidences:
- any violation of any law, rule, or regulation;
- gross mismanagement;
- a gross waste of funds;
- an abuse of authority;
- a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or
- censorship related to scientific research if censorship meets one of the above-listed categories.
You are also protected from retaliation for filing an appeal, complaint, or grievance; helping someone else file or testifying on their behalf; cooperating with or disclosing information to the OIG or refusing to obey an order that would require the person to violate a law, rule, or regulation.
Who’s the audience for my disclosure?
Protected disclosures can be made either internally to others within the agency or externally with exceptions for sensitive material. The WPA protects public disclosures as long as the underlying information is not restricted from release by executive order or specifically prohibited by law.
Where can I file a complaint?
If a personnel action has been taken or threatened against you because you made a disclosure of wrongdoing within your component, to the OIG, or elsewhere, you may submit a whistleblower complaint to the OIG Hotline or to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
If you submit your complaint to the OIG Hotline, the OIG will review it and notify you whether we, the OSC, or another agency should process the complaint.
More Resources for Federal Employees
The Inspector General Act requires the OIG to designate an individual to serve as the OIG’s Whistleblower Protection Coordinator.
The OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator is not a legal representative, agent, or advocate for any individual whistleblower, but can educate employees who have made or are contemplating making a protected disclosure about the rights and remedies available to them.
The OIG’s Whistleblower Protection Coordinator also educates Department employees and managers about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures; ensures the OIG is promptly and thoroughly reviewing complaints that it receives and is communicating effectively with whistleblowers throughout the process; and coordinates with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, other agencies, and nongovernmental organizations on relevant matters.
For more information, please contact the OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator at email@example.com.
What is “whistleblower retaliation”?
Whistleblower retaliation occurs when an employer (through a manager, supervisor, administrator, or other person with authority) takes adverse action against an employee for disclosing wrongdoing which may include waste, fraud, abuse, or other criminal activity or violation of law. Retaliation can take many forms but includes firing or demoting an employee, denying benefits, denying overtime pay or promotion, or intimidation or harassment.
What relief might be available to me if I was retaliated against for blowing the whistle?
If an OIG investigation substantiates your claim of whistleblower retaliation, relief or remedies may be available. The remedies will vary based on what happened to you but may include, if appropriate, job restoration, reversal of suspensions and other adverse actions, back pay, and reasonable and foreseeable consequential damages (e.g., medical costs, attorneys fees, and compensatory damages).
Can a Department supervisor or manager be held accountable for retaliating against a whistleblower?
Yes. An ED employee who commits a prohibited personnel practice (including retaliating against someone who has disclosed wrongdoing) may be disciplined. If an agency fails to take disciplinary action, then OSC can bring a disciplinary action case to the MSPB against the employee who committed the prohibited personnel practice. If the MSPB finds that an individual has committed a prohibited personnel practice, it can order disciplinary action, including removal, reduction in grade, debarment from Federal employment for up to 5 years, suspension, reprimand, or a fine of up to $1,000. Additionally, new statutory provisions impose a mandatory proposed penalty for supervisors that commit violations of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8), (b)(9), or (b)(14).
How do I report wrongdoing or a complaint of retaliation if it involves classified information?
A disclosure of waste, fraud, or abuse that includes classified information is not a protected disclosure under the whistleblower laws unless the disclosure is made in accordance with the law and rules that govern the proper handling and transmission of classified information. For example, you are not protected when disclosing classified information to an unauthorized recipient, even if you reasonably believe the information is evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse.
You can make protected disclosure of classified information to the OIG, but the information may NOT be sent using the OIG’s unclassified hotline. If you have a complaint to file that requires the disclosure of classified information, please call the OIG Hotline at 1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733) or contact the nearest investigative office and state that you have a complaint to file, but it involves classified information.
May I keep my identity confidential?
Yes. The OIG has a Hotline that allows employees to make confidential complaints and disclosures. Offices of Inspectors General are prohibited from disclosing an employee's identity without the employee's consent unless the OIG determines the disclosure is unavoidable in the course of the investigation.
If you file a disclosure with OSC, your identity will not be shared outside OSC without your consent.