The Office of Special Counsel
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. OSC’s stated mission is “to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing.”
Prohibited Personnel Practices:
OSC employs support staff, attorneys, and investigators to carry out its function of protecting applicants and employees from prohibited personnel practices. So, what are prohibited personnel practice?
Prohibited personnel practices (PPPs) “…are employment-related activities that are banned in the federal workforce because they violate the merit system…” Violations of the merit system occur when there is employment discrimination; retaliation; improper hiring practices; or failure to adhere to laws, rules, and regulations of merit system principles. The following areas represent areas where PPPs may be violated. Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not engage in the following:
- Considering Inappropriate Recommendations
- Coercing Political Activity
- Obstructing Competition
- Influencing Withdrawal from Competition
- Granting Unfair Advantage
- Whistleblower Retaliation
- Other Retaliation
- Veterans Preference
- Violating Rules That Implement a Merit System Principle
- Imposing Nondisclosure Agreement That Doesn’t Allow Whistleblowing
In addition to investigating claims of a PPPs, the OSC also has a role in investigating and adjudicating Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) claims. USERRA is a law that protects the civilian jobs of military service members and veterans. Ultimately, USERRA allows the service member to regain their civilian job after a period of military service. OSC receives its USERRA cases from the Department of Labor (DOL). When the DOL believes that a federal employer has violated USERRA, but is unable to resolve the matter, the claimant has a choice of referring the case to OSC.
Other Whistleblower Actions:
OSC handles disclosures of wrongdoing, or whistleblower actions, within the executive branch of the federal government for current employees, former employees, and applicants to the federal government. OSC does not have independent investigative authority on whistleblower actions; however, the U.S. Congress has granted OSC with oversight of investigations handled by an agency head. The decision of OSC can be appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.