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Gag Orders at Federal Agencies Violate Whistleblower Laws

Over the last year and a half, there have been numerous reports about employees of federal agencies not being allowed to use specific words when preparing documents for Congress or when putting together reports. For example, in December, The Washington Post reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended employees not use words like “diversity” or “entitlement.”

However, federal law prohibits government agencies from putting restrictions on employees’ free speech without clarifying that those restrictions do not remove their right to report any internal wrongdoing. Government agencies have simply not been giving those laws the proper attention, failing to emphasize whistleblower protections.

However, after a request by various organizations, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an agency enforcing the free speech rights of government employees, began an investigation into the gag orders issued by the Department of Health and Human Services since January 2017.

The OSC reported that while the CDC policy was technically not a legal violation, its staff were instructed to avoid using certain words and as such may at least believe their rights to act as whistleblowers have been infringed upon.

The OSC’s investigation did also indicate that HHS did explicitly violate the Whistleblower Protection and Enhancement Act in the use of three other gag orders since January 2017, including its bans on unapproved communications with the media and members of Congress.

HHS and the Justice Department, which was also found to be in violation of various whistleblower laws, agreed to rewrite these policies and email employees to explain their rights.

Whistleblowers must be protected

The federal government has done a tremendous job over the last decade of strengthening whistleblower protections and encouraging people, especially employees of government agencies, to come forward with information when they become aware of internal wrongdoing. The OSC’s investigation was important in that it ensured whistleblowers still have the same rights they have had for several years now, even if government agencies are implementing unfair gag orders.

For more information on how to file a whistleblower claim, speak with an knowledgeable Dallas attorney at Kardell Law Group.


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