On January 29, 2013, the new Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC) held its inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C. Made up of 12 members, the WPAC includes three members representing the public, four members representing management, four members representing labor, and one member representing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) state plans. There are three non-voting members who represent federal agencies.
The first day-long meeting of the Committee encompassed a look back at whistleblower law for lessons learned, and a look forward at challenges that lie ahead. The Committee’s role is to advise, consult with, and make recommendations to the Secretary and Assistant Secretary of Labor on matters regarding the investigation of whistleblower complaints filed under the numerous whistleblower statues that OSHA enforces.
Specifically, the WPAC is expected and empowered to make recommendations regarding the development and implementation of:
- Better customer service to complaining employees and their employers
- Improved training of OSHA investigators and improved investigative and enforcement processes
- Improved OSHA investigation regulations
- Cooperative activities with other federal agencies with responsibility for areas covered by the statutes whose whistleblower provisions OSHA enforces or investigates
- Matters concerning the fairness, efficiency, and transparency of OSHA’s investigations, as identified by the Secretary or Assistant Secretary of Labor
The WPAC is expected to meet two to three times a year, and its initial charter is for two years, although its duration is indefinite. The members serve two-year terms and serve at the discretion of the Secretary. Thus, members can be removed during their terms, and they can be appointed to successive terms.
The WPAC has tremendous potential to help all constituencies—but especially employers—shape the landscape of the whistleblower process in a time of rapid change in the law. It is in all parties’ interests that the WPAC fulfill its charter with workable, common-sense guidance. Employers should stay informed about the agendas of upcoming meetings—we will keep you posted on those meetings. Employers also should note that each meeting will include an opportunity for public comment. We will be vigilant about highlighting opportunities for your meaningful input into the WPAC’s considerations and recommendations.
As always, if you have any questions about this or any other issues under whistleblower law, including ethics compliance, internal investigations, and whistleblower response, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our practice group members, listed on our website.
Meg Campbell is a shareholder in the Atlanta office of Ogletree Deakins and chairs the Ethics Compliance, Investigations, and Whistleblower Response Practice Group.