Whistleblower Rights and Protection

Employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and its contractors, subcontractors, and grantees perform an important service by reporting what they reasonably believe to be evidence of wrongdoing, and they should never be subject to or threatened with reprisal for doing so.  Federal law protects whistleblowers from retaliation for disclosing information about: 

  • A violation of any law, rule, or regulation
  • Gross mismanagement
  • A gross waste of funds
  • An abuse of authority
  • A substantial danger to public health and safety

An important responsibility of the OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator Program is to educate SSA employees and managers about prohibitions on retaliation for protected disclosures, and employees who have made or are contemplating making a protected disclosure about their rights and remedies against retaliation.

The OIG Whistleblower Protection Coordinator Program cannot act as a legal representative, agent, or advocate for any individual whistleblower.  You may contact the program at whistleblower.coordinator@ssa.gov.

Reports concerning wrongdoing related to SSA employees or programs should be submitted directly to the OIG HotlineAll SSA and DDS employees can access SSA's Notification of Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation (No FEAR) Act Disciplinary Policy here.

For information on whistleblower rights and protections, please see the pamphlet prepared by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Know Your Rights When Reporting Wrongs, and the three videos below produced by the Department of Justice OIG (closed captions are available for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals).  The DOJ OIG videos address the rights and protections of whistleblowers, which are generally applicable to employees of other federal agencies.

Part 1: Reporting Wrongdoing

Part 2: What Happens When You Decide to Come Forward

Part 3: After a Whistleblower Makes a Report

How to File Whistleblower Reprisal Complaints

If an adverse personnel action has been taken or threatened against you in reprisal for making a disclosure, you may submit a complaint to the OIG Hotline, or to the Office of Special Counsel.  Allegations of reprisal regarding Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) matters generally should be addressed through the EEO process.

Employees of SSA Contractors, Subccontractors, Grantees, or Subgrantees of Personal Services Contractors

Under Title 41, United States Code, Section 4712, it is illegal for an employee of a Federal contractor, subcontractor, grantee, or subgrantee or personal services contractor to be discharged, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against for making a protected whistleblower disclosure. Also, under Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-19), an action affecting access to classified information cannot be taken in reprisal for protected whistleblowing. The OIG has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of reprisal for whistleblowing by employees of SSA contractors, subcontractors, grantees, or subgrantees or personal service contractors. Information about waste, fraud, abuse, misconduct, or whistleblower reprisal relating to an SSA employee, program, contract, or grant may be reported to the OIG Hotline.

Non-Disclosure Agreements

Everyone has a right to make a protected disclosure, including those who are subject to a non-disclosure policy, form, or agreement (NDA).  It is a prohibited personnel practice to enforce an NDA unless it contains specific language notifying employees of their rights to make protected disclosures.  NDAs without the language below are only enforceable if the agency gives notice of these rights:

“These provisions are consistent with and do not supersede, conflict with, or otherwise alter the employee obligations, rights, or liabilities created by existing statute or Executive Order relating to (1) classified information, (2) communications to Congress, (3) the reporting to an Inspector General of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or (4) any other whistleblower protection.  The definitions, requirements, obligations, rights, sanctions, and liabilities created by controlling Executive Orders and statutory provisions are incorporated into this agreement and are controlling.”

Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(13)

Pre-existing NDAs without the above language may be enforced if the agency provides notice to its employees.

In the case of any conflict with an agency non-disclosure policy, form, or agreement, the Office of Special Counsel identified the following list of Executive orders and statutory provisions as controlling:

  • Executive Order No. 13526;
  • Section 7211 of Title 5, United States Code (governing disclosures to Congress);
  • Section 1034 of Title 10, United States Code as amended by the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (governing disclosure to Congress by members of the military);
  • Section 2302(b)(8) of Title 5, United States Code, as amended by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (governing disclosures of illegality, waste, fraud, abuse or public health or safety threats);
  • Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (50 U.S.C. 421 et seq.) (governing disclosures that could expose confidential Government agents);
  • The statutes which protect against disclosure that may compromise the national security, including Sections 641, 793, 794, 798, and 952 of Title 18, United States Code; and
  • Section 4(b) of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 (50 U.S.C. 783(b)).

 

Click the images to download posters from the OIG and the Office of Special Counsel: