Oversight

Uncertainties may keep whistleblowers quiet

image of obama on phone

President Obama objects to whistleblower protections in the NDAA. (White House photo)

Will President Barack Obama’s attitude toward whistleblower protections in the National Defense Authorization Act have a dampening effect on those who might be inclined to expose misbehavior within agencies?

When he signed the NDAA for fiscal 2013 into law on Jan. 2, Obama said certain provisions limit his authority to manage agency officials and he would therefore view them within the context of his responsibilities as chief executive.

Obama’s statement creates doubt about how agencies will handle whistleblower protections for contractors, said Peter Tuttle, vice president of Distributed Solutions and a former Army officer.

“This is especially troubling in regard to the prohibition of reprisal,” he said. “Any doubt here will certainly affect the willingness of contractor employees to come forward and identify gross mismanagement, waste or abuses of authority on government programs.”

In other words, “nothing will be reported if there is no reprisal protection or if nobody is listening,” Tuttle said.

Obama warned lawmakers that his administration would seek to ensure that federal employees do not divulge privileged or confidential information to Congress in the course of exposing mismanagement. But experts say the government is run by a group of people who have known one another for years, and the administration will have a hard time controlling communications between them.

“Relationships happen over decades,” said Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting Group and a key official in the federal IT community for nearly three decades. “People are married or related to others, and those relationships typically carry more importance than the latest bill language or stated wishes of the political newcomer.”

He added, “We cannot hold back the sea and the waves, no matter our intentions.”

The NDAA, which Obama signed into law Jan. 2, protects contractors from reperscussions when they disclose information that they reasonably believe is evidence of gross mismanagement, abuse of authority or violations of law, including regulations regarding contract competitions and negotiations.

Under the Act’s provisions, an employee cannot be demoted or dismissed unless the move takes the form of a non-discretionary directive and it is within the federal official’s authority to do so.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Mon, Jan 7, 2013

Leave it up to Oboma to think that he and his administration should not have to follow the same rules he expects everyone else to follow.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above