THE WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION ACT
What is a Whistleblower?
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.5 Improper governmental activity includes any action by a state agency or by a state employee performing official duties that does the following:
- Breaks 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.
How Does a Whistleblower Report Improper Governmental Activity?
Reports can be made by calling the toll-free Whistleblower Hotline (hotline) at (800) 952‑5665, by mail, or through the California State Auditor’s (State Auditor) website at
Investigation of Reports
The State Auditor confidentially investigates reports of improper governmental activity by state agencies and state employees. An investigation may be conducted independently by the State Auditor’s Office, or we may elect to have another state agency perform the confidential investigation under the State Auditor’s supervision.
What Happens If an Improper Governmental Activity is Found?
If the investigative findings establish 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 Attorney General, the Legislature, law enforcement, or any other entity having jurisdiction over the matter.
- Issue a confidential report to the agency head involved or to the entity with authority to take action against the state employee.
- 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 the action concludes.
Whistleblowers Are Protected
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 employer against a state employee who files a report is unlawful and may result in monetary penalties and imprisonment.
Improper Governmental Activities Identified by the State Auditor
Since 1993, when the State Auditor activated the hotline, it has identified improper governmental activities totaling $576.2 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, failure to perform mandated duties, and abuse of authority.
Corrective Actions Taken in Response to Investigations
The chapters of this report describe the corrective actions that departments implemented on individual cases that the State Auditor completed from July 2016 through December 2016. Table A summarizes all corrective actions that departments took in response to investigations between the time that the State Auditor opened the hotline in July 1993 until December 2016. In addition to the corrective actions listed, these investigations have resulted in many departments’ modifying or reiterating their policies and procedures to prevent future improper activities.
July 1993 Through June 2016
Source: California State Auditor.
* The number of resignations or retirements consists of those that occurred during investigations that the State Auditor has completed since 2007.
The State Auditor’s Investigative Work From July 2016 Through December 2016
The State Auditor receives allegations of improper governmental activities in several ways. From July 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016, the State Auditor received 595 calls or inquiries. Of these, 291 came through the State Auditor’s website, 187 through the mail, 72 through the hotline, 39 via facsimile, one through individuals who visited the State Auditor’s office, and five 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 620 cases that it opened either in previous periods or in the current period. As Figure A on the following page shows, after conducting a preliminary review of these allegations, the State Auditor’s investigative staff determined that 362 of the 620 cases lacked sufficient information for investigation. For another 201 cases, the staff conducted work—such as analyzing available evidence and contacting witnesses—to assess the allegations. In addition, the staff requested that state departments gather information for 16 cases to assist in assessing the validity of the allegations. The State Auditor’s staff independently investigated 20 cases and investigated another 21 cases with assistance from other state agencies.
Status of Cases
July 2016 Through December 2016
Source: California State Auditor.
The State Auditor substantiated improper governmental activities in 3 of the 20 investigations it independently investigated during the period and conducted follow‑up work for 10 cases it had publicly reported previously. In addition, the State Auditor analyzed the 21 investigations that state agencies conducted under its direction and substantiated improper governmental activities in 7 of those cases. It also conducted follow‑up work for 3 cases that state agencies had investigated and that it had publicly reported previously. The results of 10 investigations with substantiated improper governmental activities appear in this report.
5 The Whistleblower Protection 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