White House Lowers 2013 Budget For Office of Special Counsel

p>In its budget request for fiscal year 2013, the White House requested $18.7 million for the Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”). As the government watchdog website MSPBWatch reports, this was less than was requested or appropriated last year -- $19.5 million and $19 million, respectively. This lowering in funding comes despite the fact that, as the OSC noted in its FY2011 Performance and Accountability Report, released at the end of November 2011, the OSC’s case docket has grown 29% during the past three years, while its budget has increased by only 6% during that same time.

As the White House reports in its budget request, the OSC: 1) investigates Federal employee and applicant allegations of prohibited personnel practices (including reprisal for whistleblowing) and other activities prohibited by civil service law, and when appropriate, prosecutes before the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”); 2) provides a safe channel for whistleblowing by Federal employees and applicants; 3) investigates and enforces the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”); and 4) advises on and enforces the Hatch Act. OSC may transmit whistleblower allegations to the agency head concerned and require an agency investigation. OSC then submits a report to the Congress and the President when appropriate.

Overall in 2011, a record level 4,026 cases were submitted to OSC for assistance or action by Federal employees and other persons. Of this total, 2,583 were prohibited personnel practice cases, an increase of 6 percent over the prior year. In 2011, OSC resolved 4,044 matters, 20 percent more than it had just two years prior, most often without recourse to formal proceedings before the MSPB. Also during 2011, OSC's Disclosure Unit referred 22 whistleblower disclosures to agency heads for their review. OSC received 64 USERRA cases in 2011, including referrals and cases for the new demonstration project.

The White House acknowledges that for 2012 and 2013, OSC projects intakes for whistleblower disclosure, Hatch Act and prohibited personnel practice cases will increase in the 6–8 percent range, based upon the trends of the last five years. It further acknowledges that several hundred additional cases will be received through the new USERRA demonstration project. Despite this, however, the White House asserted that the funding requested for 2013 will enable OSC to maintain the staffing level necessary to operate the agency, pursue its mission, and keep case backlogs low.

According to Debra S. Katz, a partner at the whistleblower law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, “Carolyn Lerner is doing a fantastic job protecting government-employee whistleblowers with an underfunded and understaffed agency. While we understand that the White House has serious budgetary restrictions, the Office of Special Counsel plays a crucial role in protecting the public from fraud, waste and abuse. Allocating more funds to the OSC would ultimately save the government money and in some cases would provide crucial protection to the public health and safety.”