New 'Whistleblower Law' Gains Momentum in First Year
By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, July 17, 2014 – The rate of complaints from Defense Department whistleblowers increased from about four to six a month as of August 2013 to more than 200 since Jan. 1, following a year-old whistleblower rights and protections law, officials from the DOD inspector general's office said yesterday.
The new law went into effect July 1, 2013.
The whistleblower complaints include fraud, waste and abuse; reprisal; and violations of classified information, officials said.
The DOD Hotline fields all complaints, and whistleblowers must make their complaints by name, because anonymous and third-party complaints and tips cannot be investigated, said Marguerite Garrison, deputy DOD inspector general for administrative investigations.
Included in the 2013 Defense Authorization Act, the new statute covers all personnel working on new DOD contracts, modified contracts, grants and task orders.
Prior to the new law, when the DOD inspector general's office received a complaint, the complainant wasn't "covered," so investigations could not be conducted. Now, the statute allows for a broader group to whom the whistleblower can disclose information, including "a court or a grand jury, as well as management officials or other employees of the contractor or subcontractor who has the responsibility to investigate, discover or address the misconduct," Garrison said last year.
Amendments in the law include protected communication. "It used to be that complaining to the chain of command -- 'I'm raising a concern about fraud' -- wasn't considered protected communication, which was necessary" for the whistleblower rights statute, Nilgun Tolek, whistleblower reprisal investigations director, explained. And adding a "higher standard of proof" to show that a contracting agency is not acting on reprisal brings the law "in line with most other modern whistleblower protection statutes," she added.
Complainants also now have up to three years to file. "That's a really long time," Tolek said.
A third amendment says that if a case isn't closed within 210 days, or DOD denies the claim, the complainant can start anew by filing the case in civilian district court, she said.
Companies with contracts of $5 million or more are now required to put up posters concerning whistleblower rights and how to access the helpline to reach out to workers about the law, said Patrick Gookin, DOD whistleblower ombudsman and DOD Hotline director.
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