In an article titled “New law drove whistleblower complaints against DOD contractors up,” Jill Aitoro reports that the NDAA whistleblower protection provisions, which became effective one year ago, have generated a substantial increase in whistleblower complaints to the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General. According to the article, “the rate of complaints from Defense Department whistleblowers increased from about four to six a month as of August 2013 to more than 200 since Jan. 1.” In addition, the article reports that whistleblower disclosures about DOD contractor fraud have resulted in several substantial recoveries for the government.
Sections 827 and 828 of the NDAA provide robust whistleblower protection to employees of most government contractors and grantees. Under the NDAA whistleblower protection provisions, protected conduct includes the disclosure of information that the employee reasonably believes is evidence of:
- gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant;
- a gross waste of Federal funds;
- an abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant; or
- a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or a violation of law, rule, or regulation related to a Federal contract.
To be protected, the disclosure must be made to a Member of Congress or Congressional committee, an IG, the GAO, a federal employee responsible for contract or grant oversight or management at the relevant agency, an authorized official of DOJ or other law enforcement agency, a court or grand jury or a management official or other employee of the contractor or subcontractor who has the responsibility to investigate, discover, or address misconduct.
Proving NDAA Whistleblower Retaliation
The burden of proof and causation standard in NDAA whistleblower cases is very favorable to employees. The complainant prevails merely by demonstrating that the protected disclosure was a contributing factor in the personnel action, which can be met by showing knowledge and temporal proximity.
Remedies for Prevailing NDAA Whistleblowers
Remedies include reinstatement, back pay, uncapped compensatory damages (emotional distress damages) and attorney fees and costs.
Procedures for Filing a NDAA Whistleblower Retaliation Claim
An NDAA reprisal claim must be filed initially with the Office of Inspector of General of the agency that awarded the contract or grant about which the employee disclosed wrongdoing, and the statue of limitations is three years after the date of the reprisal. The OIG will investigate the complaint and make recommendations to the agency head. If the agency head fails to provide requested relief within 210 days, the whistleblower may bring an action in federal district court and try the case before a jury.