What Is the Whistleblower Protection Act?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Complaints about alleged government corruption, mismanagement, and waste have plagued most countries of the world at one time or another. These issues have often gone unreported because, historically, a government employee often faced penalties or reprisals for reporting the issue. In 1989, the United States passed the Whistleblower Protection Act as a way to protect federal employees from the negative consequences often feared when an employee, or applicant for employment, is considering filing a report of "blowing the whistle" on misconduct within the government or a federal agency.

Before the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act, federal employees faced numerous threats or reprisals for bringing corruption, mismanagement, or waste in the federal government to light. An employee might lose his or her job, be demoted, or potentially ostracized for speaking out, and an applicant for employment often risked losing future job opportunities for filing a complaint. Prior to the middle of the 20th century, the United States government was conducted largely in secret, as was the tradition in most governments. The 1960s and 1970s in America brought war protests and a general call for openness and accountability in government. The Whistleblower Protection Act was one of the eventual consequences of the demand for government accountability.


Specifically, the Whistleblower Protection Act makes it a violation for any of the covered agencies to threaten, or to actually take retaliatory action, against an employee or applicant because he or she discloses information regarding the agency. Under the Act, an individual may file a complaint against an agency to the Office of Special Counsel, which is the federal office responsible for investigating and prosecuting violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act. If the Office of Special Counsel feels that there has, indeed, been a violation of the Act, then the complaint is passed on for hearing.

A complaint for violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act is heard by the Merit Systems Protection Board. A hearing by the Merit Systems Protection Board is presided over by an appointed administrative law judge — one of the many criticisms about the process. Among the many disagreements about the complaint process for a violation of the Act is the fact that the judges who preside over the hearings are appointed by the same government that is the subject of the complaint. If a complainant loses at the Merit Systems Protection Board hearing, the case may be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.


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