The California Whistleblower Protection Act
The California Whistleblower Protection Act (Whistleblower Act) empowers the California State Auditor's Office (State Auditor) to investigate and report on improper governmental activities by agencies and employees of the State. Under the Whistleblower Act, an improper governmental activity includes any action by a state agency or employee related to state government that violates a law; is economically wasteful; or involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency.2
Since 1993, when the State Auditor activated its whistleblower hotline, it has identified improper governmental activities that have cost the State a total of $577.7 million. These improper activities include gross inefficiency, theft of state property, conflicts of interest, and personal use of state resources, among many others. 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. In addition, the investigations have substantiated improper activities that cannot be quantified monetarily but still have had negative impacts on state government.
The State Auditor's Investigative Work From July 2017 Through June 2018
As the Appendix discusses, the State Auditor receives allegations of improper governmental activities in several ways. From July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, the State Auditor received 1,331 calls or inquiries that fell within its jurisdiction. Of these, 698 came through the State Auditor's website, 359 through the mail, 228 through the hotline, 38 via facsimile, five through internal sources, and three through individuals who visited the State Auditor's office. In addition, the State Auditor received hundreds of allegations outside its jurisdiction and it referred these callers and inquirers to the appropriate federal, local, or state agencies, when possible.
During this one-year period, the State Auditor conducted investigative work on 1,481 cases that it opened either in previous periods or in the current period. As Figure 1 shows, the State Auditor's investigative staff determined that 1,018 of the 1,481 cases either lacked sufficient information for investigation or are pending preliminary review. For another 348 cases, the staff conducted or will conduct additional work—such as analyzing available evidence and contacting witnesses—to assess the allegations. The State Auditor's staff notified the respective departments for another 50 cases so they could investigate the matters further and independently initiated investigations for another 36 cases. Some of these investigations may still be ongoing. In addition, the staff requested that state agencies gather information for 29 cases to assist the State Auditor in assessing the validity of the allegations.
Status of 1,481 Cases From July 2017 Through June 2018
Source: State Auditor.
Under the Whistleblower Act, the State Auditor may issue public reports when investigations substantiate improper governmental activities. This report contains seven examples of investigations that substantiated improper governmental activities, including misuse of state time and inaccurate attendance records, economically wasteful activities, and misuse of government property. The State Auditor may also issue nonpublic reports to the head of the agencies involved and, if appropriate, to the Office of the Attorney General (Attorney General) and the appropriate policy committees. During the past year, the State Auditor issued nonpublic reports regarding nepotism, bad-faith hires, improper promotions, and other misconduct by executive management within two state entities. It provided these reports to those who could remediate the problems and ensure that the management teams involved did not retaliate against perceived whistleblowers.