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New special counsel to shorten whistleblower claim resolution

The newly appointed head of the Office of Special Counsel values whistleblowers and has a lot of respect for what they do and the courage it takes to do it. He's excited about a new law called the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which increases protections for federal employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse by government agencies. For one thing, the new law allows him to hold people responsible when they retaliate against whistleblowers.

Henry Kerner is a former prosecutor who worked on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations before being appointed to head the OSC by President Trump.

"I learned a lot," he told Federal News Radio's Tom Temin of those experiences. "One thing you really appreciate is ... the value of whistleblowers because how [else] do you get the information? How do you learn of misconduct?"

He says the Kirkpatrick Act shows that Congress is committed to protecting whistleblowers. He points to the mandatory training on how to respond to claims of whistleblower retaliation, along with the new discipline procedures for those who retaliate.

What he heard during the confirmation process was that federal employee whistleblowers need retaliation allegations to be resolved more quickly. To get that done, he has set up an efficiency and effectiveness group with the goal of proposing ways to communicate more quickly and effectively with whistleblowers. Ideally, better communication will reduce the time before a decision is made.

Whistleblower cases are tracked by agency and statute, among other things. That data shows that about a third of cases come from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Kerner. The Department of Homeland Security also has a large number of cases. Kerner said it was only to be expected that large agencies have more open cases, although he admitted he hasn't had time to carefully assess the numbers.

The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act was named in honor of a clinical psychologist who blew the whistle on over-medication of patients at a Wisconsin VA facility. He was disciplined and ultimately fired for criticizing the agency. Shortly after his firing, he committed suicide.

If you are considering reporting wrongdoing at your agency, or if you have already blown the whistle and are facing adverse employment actions, we recommend contacting an attorney experienced in federal employment law.

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