Checklists are used in many settings, typically with the intent to reduce error, increase reliability, and improve the quality of processes and outcomes. This may be why the U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) developed a checklist to be used by investigating officers when the IG has received allegations of reprisal against a whistleblower who was engaged in protected activity.
On its whistleblower program website, the IG encourages civilian employees, military personnel, and others to use the DoD hotline, and it provides various links to whistleblower protection resources, including a link to the whistleblower reprisal investigations (WRI) directorate website, which states that WRI “strives to maintain the model whistleblower protection program in the federal government.”
This brings us to the IG’s “whistleblower reprisal investigations guide investigating officer checklist.” It is intended as a quality assurance review and self-assessment tool for investigators to use before they submit investigation results to the IG. Certain sections could also be used during an investigation to ensure consistency, reliability, and high quality.
The link below (see reference to Appendix E) will take you to a copy of the checklist, part of the detailed Guide to Investigating Military Whistleblower Reprisal and Restriction Complaints (also linked below). The checklist covers five topics, listed below.
- Outside the chain of command, or at least one organization level higher than the organization of the complainant and all subjects
- Free of any interests that could influence or be perceived as influencing handling of the investigation
- No one interfered with or “unduly influenced” handling of the investigation
- No conflict of interest with any witness, complainant, or subject during the investigation
- Received entry-level investigative training (and when)
- Received periodic investigative refresher training (and date of most recent)
Elements of Reprisal
(Each of the following is further defined in the checklist):
- Making or preparing to make a protected communication, or being perceived as having made a protected communication
- Unfavorable personnel actions taken or threatened against complainant, or favorable
personnel actions withheld or threatened to be withheld from complainant
- Knowledge or perception of responsible official(s) of complainant’s protected communication(s) or preparation of protected communication(s)
- Causation: All factors analyzed in determining whether the same personnel action(s) would have been taken, withheld, or threatened absent the protected communication(s)
Analysis of Restriction Allegations
- Relevant evidence gathered and analyzed?
Adherence to Quality Standards
- Complaint accurately summarized in the report?
- Statute or standard that applied at the time accurately cited and applied?
- Each underlying allegation or other issues identified and addressed or referred for handling?
- Investigative plan prepared?
- All relevant evidence gathered by interviewing complainant, responsible management officials, and relevant witnesses?
- If any key witnesses not interviewed, explanations provided?
- Facts applied to each element or standard?
- Appropriate standard of proof applied?
- Evidence supports the investigative findings?
- All evidence relied upon in the report retained for review?
- All required notifications made if the case has been open over 180 days after receipt of the allegation?
- Conclusion reached (and documented) for each allegation?
- If substantiated, report recommends appropriate remedy for the complainant and corrective action for the subject(s)?
- Report received legal sufficiency review and review found the report legally sufficient?
- Report includes the WRI case number as well as the Service case number?
- Investigative information is organized in a logical and easily retrievable manner?
Do you use a checklist to ensure your ethics investigations are consistent, thorough, and defensible? If not, the DoD’s checklist for investigating officers might serve as a useful model.
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Inspector General. Department of Defense. Department of Defense Whistleblower Program [website]. http://www.dodig.mil/programs/whistleblower/index.html
“Appendix E – Whistleblower Reprisal Investigations Guide Investigating Officer Checklist,” Version 1, June 8, 2015. http://www.dodig.mil/Programs/Whistleblower/pdfs/ioguide/13_Appendix_E_IO_Checklist.pdf
Guide to Investigating Military Whistleblower Reprisal and Restriction Complaints, June 29, 2015. http://www.dodig.mil/Programs/Whistleblower/ioguide.html
Whistleblower Reprisal Investigations [website]. http://www.dodig.mil/ai/wri/index.html