GAO Issues Report on OSHA Whistleblower Program

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report, yesterday, on its investigation of OSHA's Whistleblower program. Entitled "Whistleblower Protection: Sustained Management Attention Needed to Address Long-standing Program Weaknesses," the report found OSHA has not done enough to improve its program and protect whistleblowers.

In response, OSHA issued a statement that said it agreed with the report's premise, that whistleblower protection was critical to improving safety, and that it was working to implement many of the recommendations the GAO offered and has made good strides in that direction.

Following are the major findings and conclusions of the report, however, the document does provide interesting insight into the whistleblower program.

Findings

  1. OSHA established training curricula for investigators, but has done little to ensure that investigators attend training or have the necessary tools to do their jobs.
  2. OSHA lacks sufficient internal controls to ensure that the whistleblower program operates as intended.
  3. We recommend that OSHA ensure investigators and their supervisors complete mandatory training, track program expenses, develop strategic goals and performance measures that are specific to the whistleblower program, and develop an action plan for addressinginternal control weaknesses.

Conclusions

  • For over 20 years, we have repeatedly found that OSHA lacks sufficient internal controls to ensure that standards for investigating whistleblower complaints are consistently followed.
  • Little progress has been made in implementing our recommendations* and significant internal control problems remain.
  • In general, “top-to-bottom” reviews can be helpful in understanding what needs improvement. But, OSHA management already has much of the information it needs to move forward.
  • The problems we have identified appear systemic and sustained management attention is needed to address them.
  • Without further action, whistleblowers will continue to have little assurance that a complaint filed in one region would have the same outcome if it were filed in another.
  • Serious questions remain about whether the whistleblower program is appropriately structured or that the national office has sufficient control mechanisms to ensure the quality and consistency of investigations.
  • In addition, without improved accountability for program resources, it may be difficult for OSHA to demonstrate that it is using the resources as Congress intended.
  • Further, absent goals specifically related to the whistleblower program, OSHA will continue to lack the ability to gauge programperformance.
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