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PEER releases OSHA's internal whistleblower report, calls for change

January 19, 2011

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Washington – OSHA's internal review of its whistleblower program is confusing and fails to address complaints about the program, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

On Jan. 18, PEER, a Washington-based nonprofit alliance of government employees, released a copy of OSHA's "top-to-bottom" review (.pdf file) of its whistleblower program. The agency commissioned the review in April, and the report is dated December 2010.

The team tasked with reviewing OSHA's whistleblower program found "significant deficiencies" and "systemic problems," according to the report, which was prepared by three assistant regional administrators. It made several recommendations for improvement, including:

  • Create a specific budget line item for the whistleblower program designating personnel, training and equipment funding.
  • Remove the Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program from the Directorate of Enforcement and place it in its own office or directorate reporting directly to the OSHA administrator's office.
  • Develop and provide training to personnel tasked with receiving and screening whistleblower complaints.
  • Establish an appeal processing deadline of 60 days.

Reactions

According to PEER, the internal report does not address some of the criticisms from recent reports released by the Government Accountability Office (.pdf file) and the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (.pdf file).

"Reading this confusing, cramped review by OSHA managers makes a compelling case why OSHA should no longer run this vital but neglected program," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a press release.

PEER is among a few organizations advocating for Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis to move whistleblower program oversight from OSHA into a separate, dedicated agency. (For more on whistleblower protection, OSHA's efforts to improve them and the agency's critics, read the February issue of Safety+Health magazine.)

New OSHA final rule

In related news, on the same day PEER released its statement, OSHA published a whistleblower final rule. The rule implements employee protection provision changes enacted into law as part of the Energy Policy Act (.pdf file). It also finalizes changes to procedures handling retaliation complaints under the act and six environmental whistleblower statutes to make them more consistent with other OSHA-administered whistleblower provisions.

The new rule is one of several OSHA recently has pursued as part of the agency's efforts to shore up whistleblower protections.

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