May 4, 2023. Whistleblowers play a vital role in exposing wrongdoing, fraud, waste, and abuse of all government contracts and programs, including those under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) umbrella. The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) recognizes this and has taken several initiatives to create a more welcoming environment for whistleblowers. In a recent hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, EPA’s Inspector General (IG) articulated his Office’s commitment to whistleblowers. “Whistleblowers are the fulcrum of good governance and oversight, with prevention on one side and detection on the other,” the IG stated in his written testimony. In its agency oversight capacity, the IG identified ways the EPA already promotes whistleblowing as a compliance activity and ways it could improve.
National Whistleblower Appreciation Day: July 30th marks National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, and the EPA OIG annually commemorates this day by conducting panel discussions to highlight the significance of whistleblowers. The agency recognizes and appreciates that whistleblowers’ disclosures can initiate change, leading to better processes and policies to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.
Financial rewards to whistleblowers: The EPA OIG has initiated a forthcoming award program that will safeguard financial rewards to EPA employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse. This initiative will provide an extra level of protection to whistleblowers, as it provides financial compensation for the potential risks and consequences that whistleblowers can face. Under 5 U.S.C. § 4512, the Inspector General of a government agency may pay a monetary award to any agency employee whose disclosure of fraud, waste, or abuse results in a cost savings to the agency.
Administrative Investigations Directorate: The EPA OIG has implemented an Administrative Investigations Directorate, which encourages, supports, and protects whistleblowers. This Directorate investigates allegations of whistleblower reprisal by contractors and grantees, ensuring whistleblower protection and preventing retaliation against those who come forward with information.
Audits and evaluations for whistleblower protection: By conducting audits and evaluations, the EPA OIG has worked to vindicate whistleblowers and protect them against retaliation. Last month, the OIG issued a report identifying provisions that the EPA could add to its terms and conditions for grants and subawards to address the contractors’, grantees’, and subrecipients’ roles and responsibilities concerning whistleblowers. The agency is working towards ensuring contractors understand their duty to post the OIG Hotline poster.
Scientific integrity policies for whistleblower protection: In addition to these initiatives, the EPA OIG is dedicated to ensuring that the EPA has solid scientific integrity policies to protect the agency and those who report waste, fraud, and abuse. The OIG is working with the EPA to strengthen and enforce those policies.
In conclusion, the EPA OIG recognizes the importance of whistleblowers, given its fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers with the billions of dollars it has been entrusted to distribute to contractors and grantees, and has taken several initiatives to create a more welcoming environment for whistleblowers to report wrongdoing, fraud, waste, and abuse. From National Whistleblower Appreciation Day to financial rewards, administrative investigations directorate, and scientific integrity policies, the EPA OIG is taking significant steps to protect whistleblowers and to ensure that compliance with grant guidelines encompasses more than “boxes to be checked.” These initiatives will encourage people to come forward and report fraud, ensuring a more transparent and efficient Environmental Protection Agency.
If you would like to report grant fraud or government contracts fraud, you can contact attorneys at Tycko & Zavareei LLP. Eva Gunasekera and Renée Brooker are former officials of the United States Department of Justice and prosecuted whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Renée served as Assistant Director at the United States Department of Justice, the office that supervises False Claims Act cases in all 94 United States District Courts. Eva was the Senior Counsel for Health Care Fraud. Eva and Renée now represent whistleblowers. For a free consultation, you can contact Renée at [email protected] (tel.: 202-417-3664) or contact Eva Gunasekera at [email protected]. You can also go to Tycko & Zavareei LLP’s website for whistleblowers to learn more at https://www.fraudfighters.net/.