GSA spending scandal puts agency whistleblowers in spotlight

Tuesday - 4/10/2012, 10:01pm EDT

Catherine McMullen, chief of the disclosure unit, OSC

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Revelations of excessive spending at the General Services Administration that eventually toppled the agency's leadership began with an inspector general's report, casting the role of agency whistleblowers once more into the spotlight.

But not all claims of wrongdoing wind up with the agency IG's office.

Some employees turn to the Office of Special Counsel, the independent investigative agency that acts under the authority of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Catherine McMullen, the chief of the disclosure unit at OSC, told In Depth with Francis Rose the agency's relatively-low profile has grown since Carolyn Lerner, the head of the office, joined the agency about nine months ago.

"We are an agency that can do a lot for the federal government, but a lot of people don't know about us," McMullen said. "And we're certainly here to assist federal employees in determining whether the wrongdoing occurred and referring it for an investigation."

What potential whistleblowers should know

Potential whistleblowers must file a written notice with the agency in writing. However, there are no forms to fill out, and a simple letter will do, McMullen said.

Employees alleging wrongdoing should be sure to note all of their observations, she said, perhaps by keeping a journal, and should keep all supporting documents.

However, not every case requires actual documentation, McMullen said. Often the most important information potential whistleblowers can provide is simply their own account of what they have seen and experienced.

On the other hand, some employees submit "voluminous documents," she added. "And, of course, that makes it more difficult to sort through, but then we'll discuss with the whistleblower at length what documents we should focus on ... We'll review every piece of paper someone sends to us because you never know where that important piece of information might be."

OSC fields requests from would-be whistleblowers with a multitude of motives, some of them perhaps even less than pure.

But McMullen said OSC's disclosure unit remains focused on the facts of the cases.

"We don't look at motivation," she said. "We look at the wrongdoing, itself."

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