Whistleblowing is often openly encouraged by government, but is it really widely supported?

In light of the recent General Services Administration scandal, Acting Director Dan Tangherlini and Inspector General Brian Miller have asked staffers to speak up if they have encountered things that “don’t seem right” within the agency.

They say GSA workers will be protected if they sound the alarm on internal issues. But some federal employees told us that isn’t always the case.

The Federal Eye and GovLoop teamed up to ask if whistleblowing is really welcome in the federal ranks. Here are responses from workers and other observers:

“The problems here never fully go away because the tensions here are ongoing and the spirit of openness required must be reinvigorated on a regular basis.

“In my earlier professional life I spent 25 years as a public sector labor union rep. I was involved in dozens of whistleblower cases and followed hundreds of others. Management attitude and agency culture are a big part of the equation, but can often turn on a dime when new political appointees come in to head agencies.

“I urge institutional protections: collective bargaining agreement provisions, statutory protections (including hefty sanctions against those who try to enforce cultures of silence), and civil service code provisions.” — Dennis Boyer, Project Director at the Interactive Foundation , on GovLoop

“Your agency could lay out a gold-embroidered welcome mat for whistleblowing, but ultimately anyone who points a finger is obligating others to either side with them, or side with the proposed offender.

“There is rarely any neutral ground, unless one is very far removed from the actions or unit being disclosed. The law certainly dictates what is and isn’t acceptable legally, but it has no means to manage or finesse the etiquette surrounding intra-group relations.” — Mark Hammer, a public sector analyst, on GovLoop

“I do not feel comfortable speaking up in my agency and I would have no idea who to tell when I see waste, fraud and abuse (and I have seen waste and abuse).

“When I contact HR about personal problems, my manager is always notified or cc’ed on e-mails. We aren’t allowed to meet with HR in person (they’ve been moved outside of D.C. to save money). We also are not allowed to speak to our boss’s boss. I really feel like if I did become a whistleblower, it would impact me at work.” — Dept. of Interior employee

“I’m going to bet that those who work in agencies where whistleblowing is unwelcome will find that reporting of any kind of management corruption, employee abuse, bullying, discrimination will result in retaliation. It’s unfortunate and I hope I’m wrong. I hope people do speak up, and hope agencies support them doing so, but this is my guess: most can’t speak up without serious repercussions, thus answers to this question may be skewed to the fortunate few who can have both a voice, and a job.” — Lauren Hayes, an IT Generalist for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, on GovLoop

“The GSA scandal will not lead to more whistleblowers.Yes, it’s true, there are many conscientious federal employees. These same employees have seen numerous cases of fraud, waste or abuse throughout their agencies and careers. But when a federal employee blows the whistle on fraud, waste, or abuse, a large target is placed on the employee’s back. By blowing the whistle, the employee enters the cross-hairs of the agency. And most agencies will dedicate large sums of taxpayer’s money and conduct investigations that may last for years to get the whistleblower and more importantly, to ‘set the tone for anyone thinking of becoming a whistleblower in the future.’...

“The bottom line: Be cautious, whistleblowing offers no protection for the employee and remains second to politics of the agency. A whistleblower will be harassed and isolated from information necessary for them to perform their duties, and therein begins the cycle of a poor performer and the first step towards removal from service.” — TSA employee

Have thoughts on whether the GSA scandal will improve conditions for whistleblowers within the government? Share them on Twitter using #FedBuzz.

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Read more on PostPolitics and the Fed Page
GSA scandal: Will it lead to more whistleblowers?
Nonprofit seeks information about protections for whistleblowers
GovLoop: Is Whistleblowing really welcome where you work?