For a federal employee who witnesses conduct within his or her agency that violates the law, the decision to become a whistleblower is not easy.
While most federal employees are nominally protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, there have been problems with that protection.
Some workers in federal agencies who have engaged in whistleblowing have suffered retaliation and other adverse job actions. Some been terminated, reassigned or had their security clearances revoked.
When Obama was running for office, he argued for strengthening protection for federal workers who engaged in whistleblowing activities.
The website Politifact investigated the status of the President’s work for improved whistleblower protection. They rated his performance a “Compromise.”
His appointments to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) have improved the chances of a whistleblower reaching a successful resolution to their case.
The OSC has obtained more favorable actions in 2011 and 2012 than in the previous years, with 159 and 160. By comparison, in 2007, they only obtained 29, according to Politifact.
For cases that reach the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the situation has improved slightly, with employees winning 3-4 percent of the time, up from less than 2 percent.
However, while Obama did sign the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and issued an Executive Order that also was designed to improve the protections for whistleblowers from retaliation by their agencies, the changes had significant limitations.
No jury trial was authorized by the Act, and free speech rights are still restricted for federal employees in the intelligence community. Concerns must be raised through internal channels, or the employee could be prosecuted for leaking intelligence to the press.
The Obama administration also has prosecuted more federal employees under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents.
Given the risks, any federal worker who may feel the need to engage in whistleblowing activity should consult with an attorney prior to making any disclosures.
Source: Politifact.com, “Better protection for most, but not the intelligence community,” Lilly Maier, November 21, 2013