Agencies can choose to establish internal
grievance procedures, and most do, even apart
from the collective bargaining context. All
executive agencies have ethics officers,
who are supposed to help employees with ethical
dilemmas, but who may be of little use. For
security clearance and military issues, internal
procedures provide the only avenue of appeal.
Collective bargaining agreements which include
grievance procedures cover approximately
60% of federal workers, although few high
level professionals. Covered employees cannot
simultaneously use union grievance procedures
and the MSPB system, so might find this link to union contacts helpful.
Since 1978, the Merit Systems Protection
Board (MSPB) has adjudicated personnel issues.
Originally, the Office of Special Counsel
(OSC) was to protect whistleblowers while
working within MSPB. In its rocky early start,
some even thought it promoted retaliation.
In 1989, Congress unanimously passed the
Whistleblowers Protection Act and made the
OSC financially independent.
Congress continues to receive discouraging
reports about ongoing retaliation in federal
agencies, even after strengthening whistleblower
protections in the 1994 reauthorization cycle.
Those 1994 amendments overruled numerous
cases decided by the MSPB and Federal Circuit,
but are often ignored by OSC staffers and
their MSPB counterparts. Both agencies' atmospheres
of secrecy, abetted by the Federal Circuit's
unusual records non-availability policy, can
mean overworked employees apply old anti-whistleblower
biases. For what it's worth, here's a link
to the supportive legislative history.
Most cases claiming violations of federal
laws or illegal actions by federal officials
are brought before the federal District Court
in a particular affected geographic area.
These include: accusations of wrongdoing
by federal employees, claims of false imprisonment
and illegal arrests (potential Fourth Amendment
violations) and free speech cases (potentially
protected by the First Amendment). Other
possibly applicable statutes include the
Privacy Act (confidentiality of employee
records), Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
and Federal Tort Claims Act. District courts
also decide qui tam suits, sometimes known as the "private
attorney general" lawsuits, involving
private prosecutions of fraud against the
government. Adverse decisions by the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (or OSC
deferring to the EEOC in civil rights, age
or disability discrimination cases) can be
appealed to District Courts rather than the
District court decisions can be appealed
to regional appellate courts (the numbered
and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeal). Those
regional federal appeals courts also review
decisions of the Departments of Labor and
Energy concerning health and safety violations
(and illegal retaliation afterward).