Federal Whistleblower Claims Fall by Almost Half

Tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 28, 2024
 Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

Federal Whistleblower Claims Fall by Almost Half

From Trump to Biden, More Federal Workers File Far Fewer Gripes


Washington, DC — In recent years, whistleblower disclosures and retaliation complaints have fallen dramatically, according to U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) statistics reviewed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The greater than 40% decline in the five years between Fiscal Years 2017 and 2022 (the last year for which final figures are available) comes despite an increase in the number of federal employees during the same period.

OSC is the entity charged with whistleblower protection and investigation within the federal civil service. It has two primary functions in this regard: 1) protecting federal whistleblowers from illegal retaliation and 2) reviewing employee disclosures of waste, fraud, and illegal activities and overseeing investigations of those disclosures with a substantial likelihood of validity.

Both functions are fueled by complaints or disclosures filed with OSC by federal civil servants. The number of these filings has declined significantly from the Trump to Biden administrations:

  • Whistleblower disclosures to OSC fell from 1,781 in FY 2017 to 928 in FY 22, a decline of more than 48%;
  • Complaints of prohibited personnel practices (of which whistleblower retaliation complaints are the largest share, estimated by OSC as approximately 40% of the total) dropped from 3,825 complaints in FY 2017 to 2,287 such complaints in FY 2022, a decrease of more than 40%; and
  • During this period, total federal civilian employment rose by nearly 100,000 employees, from 2,087,747 in FY 2017 to 2,180,296 in FY 2022.

“Like canaries in a coal mine, whistleblowers play a vital early warning function of alerting the public about dysfunction and corruption in government,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former senior enforcement attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Paying attention to the patterns of these complaints and disclosures can reveal a lot about a federal agency’s efficiency and effectiveness.”

PEER points to developments that may have also been a factor in the steady falloff in whistleblower filings during recent years, such as –

  • The Covid epidemic significantly increased the number and percentages of federal employees working from home, thus decreasing the opportunities for workplace harassment and employee awareness of conditions in the field; and
  • The civil service court hearing whistleblower cases, the Merit Systems Protection Board, did not have a quorum for more than five years (January 2017 to March 2022), largely due to President Trump’s failure to nominate new Board members to fill vacancies. That meant no cases appealed for MSPB action during that period could be decided, resulting in a backlog of 3,793 cases. This backlog may have deterred employees from pursuing new whistleblower retaliation complaints that would add to this huge backlog; and
  • Despite many fewer cases, OSC has not significantly reduced processing time, with more than a fifth of cases taking more than eight months to process, leading to lowered expectations of timely assistance from OSC.

“It is hard to say whether having a President who celebrates federal workers rather than one seeking to fire them plays a role in the decline in whistleblowing,” added Whitehouse, pointing to steadily improving morale as measured by the annual governmentwide Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. “Happy employees do not tend to file complaints, however.”


View drop in whistleblower disclosures and retaliation complaints (pages 23-33)

Track rise in federal civilian employment

Look at MSPB backlog

See positive trend in most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740