The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act has only been law for a few months, but a case involving the Office of Personnel Management may compromise much of its protection for potentially thousands of federal government workers in jobs that are nominally related to national security.
When a federal government employee comes forward as a whistleblower, they understand the risk to their job and career. They have probably already tried to work with their chain of command, and report their concerns to their supervisors. Because so much of what government employees do affects public safety, witness the questions of what inspections were carried out at the West Fertilizer plant prior to the catastrophic explosion, just standing by and watching some disaster unfold is not an option.
Many government agencies are struggling with hiring and pay freezes, increased workloads, budget cuts and the effects of the sequestration. The constant mantra seems to be do more with less. Doing more with less, however, comes with a cost, and this cost if often borne by employees, either directly, like pay cuts and furloughs, or indirectly by pressure and harassment by management and supervisors.
As sequestration continues, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued instructions to federal agencies to limit incentive awards for employees and warned them to not attempt to shift money within their budgets to "soften the impact of sequestration."
In the government, there can be many types of scandals. Some, like Watergate, contain multiple incidents of legal violations made at the highest levels. Others should only be called scandal in quotes. The GSA conference overspending "scandal" appears to have been one of the latter.
Now that Congress and the President have failed to prevent sequestration from going into effect, for many federal employees, the question on their minds becomes "what now?" The truth is, no one really knows, because no one has experience with this type of situation. Each agency will respond slightly differently, so how the sequestration cuts will affect employees will also vary.
As the deadline for sequestration looms, federal agencies have begun to discuss how they will achieve the mandated five percent across the board budget cuts that will be required on March 1. To achieve these cuts, many federal agencies will use unpaid furloughs, sending employees home and off their payroll.
Tighter federal budgets and the threat of wholesale layoffs and reductions in force in many agencies have meant that fewer federal employees are receiving step raises within their grade level. Speculation suggest that managers may be planning on cutting low performing employees, and that denial of step raises is often the first move by a manager to fire an employee.
The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) reports that last year they handled the largest number of appeals in almost a decade, as employees contested more personnel decisions. This included actions like negative performance appraisal and denials of step increases on pay rates.