THE CALIFORNIA WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION ACT
The Critical Role of Whistleblowers
Whistleblowers are critical to ensuring government accountability and public safety. Under state law, anyone who reports an improper governmental activity is a whistleblower and is protected from retaliation.2 An improper governmental activity is any action by a state agency or by a state employee performing official duties that does the following:
- Breaks a state or federal law.
- Is economically wasteful.
- Involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency.
- Does not comply with the State Administrative Manual or the State Contracting Manual.
Ways That Whistleblowers Can Report Improper Governmental Activities
Reports can be made by calling the toll‑free Whistleblower Hotline (hotline) at (800) 952‑5665, by mail, or through the State Auditor’s website at www.auditor.ca.gov/contactus.complaint.
Investigation of Reports
The State Auditor confidentially investigates reports of improper governmental activity by state agencies and state employees. The State Auditor may conduct an investigation independently, or it may elect to have another state agency perform the confidential investigation under its supervision.
Actions That May Be Taken When the State Auditor Finds Improper Governmental Activities
If an investigation establishes that an improper governmental activity has occurred, the State Auditor may take one or more of the following actions:
- Confidentially report the matter to the Office of the Attorney General, the Legislature, law enforcement, or any other entity having jurisdiction over the matter.
- Issue a confidential report to the head of the agency involved or to the entity with authority to take action against the state employee involved.
- Issue a public report on the matter, keeping confidential the identities of the individuals involved.
The State Auditor performs no enforcement functions: this responsibility lies with the appropriate state agency, which is required to regularly notify the State Auditor of any action taken, including disciplinary action, until final action has been taken.
The Protection of Whistleblowers
State law protects state employees who blow the whistle on improper governmental activities. The State Auditor will protect a whistleblower’s identity to the maximum extent allowed by law. Retaliation by a state employee against a state employee who files a report is unlawful and may result in monetary penalties and imprisonment.
Improper Governmental Activities the State Auditor Has Identified
Since 1993, when the State Auditor activated the hotline, it has identified improper governmental activities that have cost the State a total of $576.6 million. These improper activities include gross inefficiency, theft of state property, conflicts of interest, and personal use of state resources. For example, the State Auditor reported in March 2014 that the Employment Development Department failed to participate in a key aspect of a federal program that would have allowed it to collect an estimated $516 million owed to the State in unemployment benefit overpayments between February 2011 and September 2014. The investigations have also substantiated improper activities that cannot be quantified in dollars but that have had negative social impacts. Examples include violations of fiduciary trust, failures to perform mandated duties, and abuses of authority.
Corrective Actions Taken in Response to Investigations
The chapters of this report describe the corrective actions that state agencies implemented on individual cases for which the State Auditor completed investigations from January 2017 through June 2017. Table A summarizes all corrective actions that state agencies took in response to investigations from the time that the State Auditor opened the hotline in July 1993 until June 2017. In addition to the corrective actions listed, these investigations have resulted in many state agencies modifying or reiterating their policies and procedures to prevent future improper activities.
July 1993 Through June 2017
Source: California State Auditor's Office.
* The State Auditor began tracking resignations and retirements in 2007, so this number includes only those that occurred during investigations since that time.
The State Auditor’s Investigative Work From January 2017 Through June 2017
The State Auditor receives allegations of improper governmental activities in several ways. From January 1, 2017, through June 30, 2017, the State Auditor received 662 calls or inquiries. Of these, 378 came through the State Auditor’s website, 161 through the mail, 84 through the hotline, 34 via facsimile, three through individuals who visited the State Auditor’s Office, and two through internal sources. When the State Auditor determined that allegations were outside its jurisdiction, it referred the callers and inquirers to the appropriate federal, local, or state agencies, when possible.
During this six‑month period, the State Auditor conducted investigative work on 677 cases that it opened either in previous periods or in the current period. As Figure A shows, after conducting preliminary reviews of the allegations involved, the State Auditor’s investigative staff determined that 435 of the 677 cases lacked sufficient information for investigation. For another 192 cases, the staff conducted work—such as analyzing available evidence and contacting witnesses—to assess the allegations. In addition, the staff requested that state agencies gather information for 14 cases to assist in assessing the validity of the allegations. The State Auditor’s staff independently investigated 20 cases and investigated another 16 cases with assistance from other state agencies.
Status of Cases
January 2017 Through June 2017
Source: California State Auditor.
The State Auditor substantiated improper governmental activities in two of the 20 cases it independently investigated during the period and conducted follow‑up work for nine cases it had publicly reported previously. In addition, the State Auditor analyzed the 16 investigations that state agencies conducted under its direction, and it substantiated improper governmental activities in four of those cases. It also conducted follow‑up work for six cases that state agencies had investigated and that it had publicly reported previously. The results of six investigations with substantiated improper governmental activities appear in this report.
2 The Whistleblower Act can be found in its entirety in Government Code sections 8547 through 8548.5. It is available online at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov. Go back to text