GAO: Labor's whistleblower data a mess

The Labor Department's records for federal whistleblowers are sloppy and incomplete and many initial complaints do not make in into any database, a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) completed about 1,800 whistleblower investigations in fiscal 2007 and the outcome of the cases favored the whistleblowers 21 percent of the time, GAO said. The average time it takes to investigate a complaint is nine months, but some cases are completed in 10 days and others take as long as three years, the government auditors also reported.

OSHA’s databases for the whistleblower cases are incomplete and often inaccurate, GAO found in a report issued Feb. 26.

“OSHA does not have an effective mechanism to ensure that the data are accurately recorded in its database, and our file reviews revealed that the key dates are often inaccurately recorded in the database or cannot be verified due to a lack of supporting documentation,” the report said, adding, “For example, in one region we visited, none of the case closed dates matched the documentation in case files.”

Also, many whistleblower complaints do not get recorded in any databasesl, GAO said. Under certain statutes, OSHA is permitted to screen out complaints in advance, without recording them, if the complaint is not filed in a timely basis or if it does not meet initial criteria for an investigation, the report noted.

“Because these complaints are never recorded in its database, OSHA does not have a complete picture of its overall investigator workload or of the outcomes of all complaints received,” the report said.

The amount of screened-out complaints varied across the country. In two regions, few were screened out. In two other regions, more complaints were screened than were recorded, GAO said.

 To view the report, go to http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09106.pdf

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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