A Whistleblower on OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

Darrell Whitman is a former attorney and professor who became an Office of Whistleblower Protection Programs (OWPP) investigator in 2010. Whitman was a GS-12 Regional Investigator for OWPP, the U.S. Department of Labor, and OSHA. In 2011, Whitman and several other investigators began challenging abuses of power in OWPP’s Region 9 offices in San Francisco. They began voicing their concerns through internal union grievance procedures, and then began raising concerns to the OWPP Director and then Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. The group accused officials including Regional Supervisory Investigator Joshua Paul of various allegations of misconduct. As they continued to air their grievances, the group alleges to have become targets of personal attacks. Ultimately, Whitman was terminated on May 5, 2015, and four of the five original whistleblowers have been terminated or forced out of their positions.

Whitman’s allegations are detailed at more length in his amended complaint claim filed earlier this month with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which was filed on his behalf by the Government Accountability Project. They allege Whitman was wrongfully terminated and an illegal gag order was put in place to silence him. He filed an initial Whistleblower Protection Act Complaint on January 16, 2015, and recently filed an Amended Disclosure and Complaint with regard to the events leading up to his May 5, 2015 termination.

Whitman accuses OSHA and the Department of Labor of denying OSHA complainants’ their proper remedies under the law, violating whistleblowers’ rights, obstructing investigations, retaliating against complainants, covering up management failures, falsifying government documents, conducting improper surveillance of employees, using unqualified personnel, violating equal employment opportunity rights, obstructing investigations, and failing to take corrective action of these violations.

Notably, in a Department of Labor Report to OSHA on September 30, 2015, the Department of Labor acknowledged OSHA could strengthen the Whistleblower Program and work to ensure complainants are protected as intended. The report acknowledged an 18 percent error rate with regard to reviewing whistleblower complaints. The Department of Labor made a number of recommendations to the Assistant Secretary of OSHA to strengthen the controls over whistleblower complaints and improve communication internally with OSHA’s enforcement units. OSHA agreed with the recommendations and also agreed more work could be done to strengthen the whistleblower program.

As for Whitman, the Government Accountability Project has requested an Office of Special Counsel order for an independent investigation because they claim Whitman has exhausted all other available remedies, and the Department of Labor has failed to address his complaints.

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