Hawaii got top marks for its whistleblower protections laws in the State Integrity Investigation.

But in practice, the national examination of state transparency and corruption laws found they’re not effective.

Hawaii got a 75 percent score on this question, brought down because of a low score of 25 percent on the question of whether whistleblowers are protected from recrimination in practice.

However Hawaii’s score on this question was still higher than its overall D, or 66 percent, grade for State Civil Service Management.

Hawaii was in the middle of the pack for State Civil Service Management, ranking 26th. New Jersey came first and George placed last.

The State Integrity Investigation asked three questions to determine each state’s score on whistleblower laws. While it got 100 percent on two of them, it failed badly when it came to whether in practice whistleblowers are protected.

Overall, the State Integrity Investigation ranked Hawaii 10th after Civil Beat reporters researched 330 “Corruption Risk Indicators” across 14 categories of government. (Click here to learn more about the methodology used for the project.)

Bottom line: This is another case where Hawaii has good laws, but there’s a gap between law and practice.

Here’s the basis for the 75-percent grade that contributed to the overall 66 percent score for State Civil Service Management. It’s your turn to evaluate whether Civil Beat got it right and to share what you think should be done to improve the situation. Share your comments at the bottom of this story.

Here’s the sixth question the State Integrity Investigation asked regarding State Civil Service Management.

Are state employees protected from recrimination or other negative consequences when reporting corruption (i.e. whistle-blowing)?

Overall score: 75%

Here are the criteria Civil Beat used to answer that question and what Civil Beat found.

1. In law, civil servants who report cases of corruption, graft, abuse of power, or abuse of resources are protected from recrimination or other negative consequences.

Notes: There is an internal complaint procedure under the civil service law, which states that those complaining shall be assured from discrimination, reprisal and coercion. The state Whistleblowers’ Protection Act also protects employees from wrongful termination, threats or discrimination relating to employment as a result of reporting violations.

Sources:

Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 76 Civil Service Law, §76-42 Internal complaint procedures. Visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol02_Ch0046-0115/HRS0076/HRS_0076-0042.htm for details.

Also see §378-62 Discharge of, threats to, or discrimination against employee for reporting violations of law. Visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol07_Ch0346-0398/HRS0378/HRS_0378-0062.htm for details.

Score: 100%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Yes: A YES score is earned if there are specific laws against recrimination against public sector whistleblowers. This may include prohibitions on termination, transfer, harassment, or other consequences.
No: A NO score is earned if there are no legal protections for public-sector whistleblowers.

2. In practice, civil servants who report cases of corruption, graft, abuse of power, or abuse of resources are protected from recrimination or other negative consequences.

Notes: State law is supposed to protect people who report instances of corruption from negative consequences. However, the opposite has happened. There are examples of whistleblowers’ actions backfiring against them. For example, in 2003 Honolulu Police Department Detective Kenneth Kamakana was transferred to the auto theft detail, after filing a whistleblower lawsuit, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. Kamakana’s fellow officers and bosses retaliated, after he reported their alleged misconduct to the FBI, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In another instance, KITV4 reported in 2005 that an airport official complained to the Transportation Safety Agency about safety problems at the Honolulu International Airport. However, managers reduced his hours, so he lost his medical benefits, according to KITV4. According to the Honolulu Advertiser’s 2006 story, an employee at Kailua Wastewater Treatment Plant reported abuses and suffered retaliation. A former Honolulu Liquor Commission investigator testified against eight investigators, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. However, employees told the Honolulu Advertiser they could avoid potential retaliation by reporting anonymously, which may not be taken seriously.

Sources:

• Honolulu Advertiser, Jim Dooley, 7/6/03, “Whistleblower says he never wanted to sue”.

• Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Mary Vorsino, 12/4/03, “City settles officer’s lawsuit for $650,000”.

• KITV4, staff, 6/25/05, “Airport Whistleblower Says TSA Retaliating Against Him”.

• Honolulu Advertiser, Rob Perez, 8/20/2006, “Whistleblowers say ordeal not worth it”.

Score: 25%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Very Strong: Public sector whistleblowers can report abuses of power without fear of negative consequences. This may be due to robust mechanisms to protect the identity of whistleblowers or may be due to a culture that encourages disclosure and accountability.
Fair: Public sector whistleblowers are sometimes able to come forward without negative consequences, but in other cases, whistleblowers are punished for disclosing, either through official or unofficial means.
Very Weak: Public sector whistleblowers often face substantial negative consequences, such as losing a job, relocating to a less prominent position, or some form of harassment.

3. In law, is there an internal mechanism (i.e. phone hotline, e-mail address, local office) through which civil servants can report corruption.

Notes: State law specifies that there is an internal complaint procedure in various departments, which allows employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements to file a formal complaint. The internal complaints are handled by each department’s personnel office. When the internal complaint is exhausted, then the merit appeals board could be the next option.

Under state law, the state Ombudsman Office has the power to independently investigate complaints against state and county agencies. However, the state Ombudsman Office does not cover state employees under collective bargaining. The office may be contacted by phone, email or snail mail. The office may also refer those who filed complaints to the proper agencies, such as law enforcement or state Attorney General’s Office.

The State Ethics Commission may also investigate allegations of violations to the state ethics law. However, the state Attorney General’s Office would handle corruption cases, according to former State Ethics Commission executive director Dan Mollway. The commission may defer people to the FBI, police or state Ombudsman’s Office, according to Mollway.

Sources:

Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 76 Civil Service Law, §76-42 Internal complaint procedures. Visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol02_Ch0046-0115/HRS0076/HRS_0076-0042.htm for details.

Also see §76-14 Merit appeals board; duties, and jurisdiction. Visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol02_Ch0046-0115/HRS0076/HRS_0076-0014.htm for details.

Also see Chapter 96 The Ombudsman. Visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol02_Ch0046-0115/HRS0096/HRS_0096-.htm for details. Visit http://www.ombudsman.hawaii.gov for details.

Also see Chapter 84 Standards of Conduct, §84-31 Duties of commission; complaint, hearing, determination. Visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol02_Ch0046-0115/HRS0084/HRS_0084-0031.htm for details.

Also see Hawaii Department of the Attorney General. Visit http://hawaii.gov/ag/main/about_us for details.

Score: 100%

Scoring criteria: These are the scoring criteria for this question.
Yes: A YES score is earned if there is a mechanism, or multiple mechanisms for state government agencies, through which civil servants can report cases of graft, misuse of public funds, or corruption.
No: A NO score is earned if no such mechanism (or equivalent series of mechanisms) exists.

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