By DANA LIEBELSON
Let’s say that you work for a government agency, and happen to witness fraud, waste or abuse—but you know that your employer is reading your email, and might use the information to retaliate against you. Would this affect your decision to blow the whistle?
That’s the concern Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner raised in a memorandum sent last week to government agency heads and general counsels. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC)—which is responsible for investigating whistleblower claims—asked agencies in the memorandum to evaluate their monitoring practices to ensure employees are not discouraged from exercising their legal rights to disclose wrongdoing.
From the memorandum:
Agency monitoring specifically designed to target protected disclosures to the OSC and Inspectors General is highly problematic. Such targeting undermines the ability of employees to make confidential disclosures…The same risk is presented by an employing agency’s deliberate targeting of an employee’s emails or computer files for monitoring simply because the employee made a protected disclosure.
According to The Washington Post, the memorandum comes five months after the paper reported that “the Food and Drug Administration secretly monitored the personal e-mail of a group of scientists who warned Congress and others that the agency was approving medical devices they considered dangerous.”
Lerner and the OSC should be lauded for taking action on this important issue. POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury said, “This is an extremely important reminder of whistleblower rights and strong recommendation for agencies heads to rein in managers who may be intimidating whistleblowers or violating the law. It is especially welcome given the new directive to amp up monitoring for leaks in the intelligence community.”