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Whistleblower Protections for Employees With Security Clearances

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Know your rights

Presidential Policy Directive 19 (PPD-19) makes it unlawful for a federal agency to take any action affecting your access to classified information in reprisal for making a protected disclosure. If you believe you have been subjected to a retaliatory action affection your security clearance, you may file a complaint with your agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Most commonly, whistleblower reprisal allegations involve a reprimand, suspension, demotion, or some other personnel action that occurs after an employee discloses wrongdoing. For any personnel action that does not involve your access to classified information or your security clearance, most federal employees may file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

Employees with access to classified information may also experience retaliatory actions affecting their security clearance. The rules that protect employees from retaliatory security clearance actions are different than the rules that protect employees from more routine personnel actions. For example, unlike the WPA, PPD-19 does not protect employee for disclosures to the press or other non-government entities. More details are provided below.

Who is protected from a retaliatory security clearance action?

Any employee with access to classified information may be protected by PPD-19 from retaliatory actions affecting a security clearance. This includes employees of government contractors and grantees.

What is a protected disclosure?

Under PPD-19, it is unlawful for an agency to take an action affecting your security clearance or access to classified information because you made a grantee to retaliate against you for making a “protected disclosure.” A disclosure is protected if it meets two criteria:

    1. The disclosure must be based on a reasonable belief that wrongdoing has occurred. For contractors and grantees, the whistleblower law defines wrongdoing as:
    • Gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant
    • Gross waste of Federal funds,
    • Abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant,
    • Substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, and
    • Violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract (including the competition for or negotiation of a contract) or grant.
    2. The disclosure must also be made to a person or entity that is authorized to receive it. For contractors and grantees, the disclosure must be made to
    • A Member of Congress or a representative of a committee of Congress,
    • An Inspector General,
    • The Government Accountability Office,
    • A Federal employee responsible for contract or grant oversight or management at the relevant agency,
    • An authorized official of the Department of Justice or other law enforcement agency,
    • A court or grand jury, or
    • A management official or other employee of the contractor, subcontractor, or grantee who has the responsibility to investigate, discover, or address misconduct.

What constitutes retaliation?

Retaliation occurs when a contractor or grantee discharges, demotes, or otherwise discriminates against an employee because the employee made a protected disclosure.

How do I file a retaliation complaint?

Every OIG has a public website which provides information on how to file a whistleblower complaint. Most Often, the OIGs website will provide an online complaint form or a hotline address where a complaint may be filed.

You can use the reporting tool on this web site to identify the OIG with jurisdiction over your complaint, and to find a link directly to their hotline.