§ 42.40.040. Report of improper governmental action -- Investigations and reports by auditor, agency
(1)(a) In order to be investigated, an assertion of improper governmental action must be provided to the auditor or other public official within one year after the occurrence of the asserted improper governmental action. The public official, as defined in RCW 42.40.020, receiving an assertion of improper governmental action must report the assertion to the auditor within fifteen calendar days of receipt of the assertion. The auditor retains sole authority to investigate an assertion of improper governmental action including those made to a public official. A failure of the public official to report the assertion to the auditor within fifteen days does not impair the rights of the whistleblower.
(b) Except as provided under RCW 42.40.910 for legislative and judicial branches of government, the auditor has the authority to determine whether to investigate any assertions received. In determining whether to conduct either a preliminary or further investigation, the auditor shall consider factors including, but not limited to: The nature and quality of evidence and the existence of relevant laws and rules; whether the action was isolated or systematic; the history of previous assertions regarding the same subject or subjects or subject matter; whether other avenues are available for addressing the matter; whether the matter has already been investigated or is in litigation; the seriousness or significance of the asserted improper governmental action; and the cost and benefit of the investigation. The auditor has the sole discretion to determine the priority and weight given to these and other relevant factors and to decide whether a matter is to be investigated. The auditor shall document the factors considered and the analysis applied.
(c) The auditor also has the authority to investigate assertions of improper governmental actions as part of an audit conducted under chapter 43.09 RCW. The auditor shall document the reasons for handling the matter as part of such an audit.
(2) Subject to subsection (5)(c) of this section, the identity or identifying characteristics of a whistleblower is confidential at all times unless the whistleblower consents to disclosure by written waiver or by acknowledging his or her identity in a claim against the state for retaliation. In addition, the identity or identifying characteristics of any person who in good faith provides information in an investigation under this section is confidential at all times, unless the person consents to disclosure by written waiver or by acknowledging his or her identity as a witness who provides information in an investigation.
(3) Upon receiving specific information that an employee has engaged in improper governmental action, the auditor shall, within fifteen working days of receipt of the information, mail written acknowledgement to the whistleblower at the address provided stating whether a preliminary investigation will be conducted. For a period not to exceed sixty working days from receipt of the assertion, the auditor shall conduct such preliminary investigation of the matter as the auditor deems appropriate.
(4) In addition to the authority under subsection (3) of this section, the auditor may, on its own initiative, investigate incidents of improper state governmental action.
(5)(a) If it appears to the auditor, upon completion of the preliminary investigation, that the matter is so unsubstantiated that no further investigation, prosecution, or administrative action is warranted, the auditor shall so notify the whistleblower summarizing where the allegations are deficient, and provide a reasonable opportunity to reply. Such notification may be by electronic means.
(b) The written notification shall contain a summary of the information received and of the results of the preliminary investigation with regard to each assertion of improper governmental action.
(c) In any case to which this section applies, the identity or identifying characteristics of the whistleblower shall be kept confidential unless the auditor determines that the information has been provided other than in good faith. If the auditor makes such a determination, the auditor shall provide reasonable advance notice to the employee.
(d) With the agency's consent, the auditor may forward the assertions to an appropriate agency to investigate and report back to the auditor no later than sixty working days after the assertions are received from the auditor. The auditor is entitled to all investigative records resulting from such a referral. All procedural and confidentiality provisions of this chapter apply to investigations conducted under this subsection. The auditor shall document the reasons the assertions were referred.
(6) During the preliminary investigation, the auditor shall provide written notification of the nature of the assertions to the subject or subjects of the investigation and the agency head. The notification shall include the relevant facts and laws known at the time and the procedure for the subject or subjects of the investigation and the agency head to respond to the assertions and information obtained during the investigation. This notification does not limit the auditor from considering additional facts or laws which become known during further investigation.
(a) If it appears to the auditor after completion of the preliminary investigation that further investigation, prosecution, or administrative action is warranted, the auditor shall so notify the whistleblower, the subject or subjects of the investigation, and the agency head and either conduct a further investigation or issue a report under subsection (9) of this section.
(b) If the preliminary investigation resulted from an anonymous assertion, a decision to conduct further investigation shall be subject to review by a three-person panel convened as necessary by the auditor prior to the commencement of any additional investigation. The panel shall include a state auditor representative knowledgeable of the subject agency operations, a citizen volunteer, and a representative of the attorney general's office. This group shall be briefed on the preliminary investigation and shall recommend whether the auditor should proceed with further investigation.
(c) If further investigation is to occur, the auditor shall provide written notification of the nature of the assertions to the subject or subjects of the investigation and the agency head. The notification shall include the relevant facts known at the time and the procedure to be used by the subject or subjects of the investigation and the agency head to respond to the assertions and information obtained during the investigation.
(7) Within sixty working days after the preliminary investigation period in subsection (3) of this section, the auditor shall complete the investigation and report its findings to the whistleblower unless written justification for the delay is furnished to the whistleblower, agency head, and subject or subjects of the investigation. In all such cases, the report of the auditor's investigation and findings shall be sent to the whistleblower within one year after the information was filed under subsection (3) of this section.
(8)(a) At any stage of an investigation under this section the auditor may require by subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of documentary or other evidence relating to the investigation at any designated place in the state. The auditor may issue subpoenas, administer oaths, examine witnesses, and receive evidence. In the case of contumacy or failure to obey a subpoena, the superior court for the county in which the person to whom the subpoena is addressed resides or is served may issue an order requiring the person to appear at any designated place to testify or to produce documentary or other evidence. Any failure to obey the order of the court may be punished by the court as a contempt thereof.
(b) The auditor may order the taking of depositions at any stage of a proceeding or investigation under this chapter. Depositions shall be taken before an individual designated by the auditor and having the power to administer oaths. Testimony shall be reduced to writing by or under the direction of the individual taking the deposition and shall be subscribed by the deponent.
(c) Agencies shall cooperate fully in the investigation and shall take appropriate action to preclude the destruction of any evidence during the course of the investigation.
(d) During the investigation the auditor shall interview each subject of the investigation. If it is determined there is reasonable cause to believe improper governmental action has occurred, the subject or subjects and the agency head shall be given fifteen working days to respond to the assertions prior to the issuance of the final report.
(9)(a) If the auditor determines there is reasonable cause to believe an employee has engaged in improper governmental action, the auditor shall report, to the extent allowable under existing public disclosure laws, the nature and details of the activity to:
(i) The subject or subjects of the investigation and the head of the employing agency;
(ii) If appropriate, the attorney general or such other authority as the auditor determines appropriate;
(iii) Electronically to the governor, secretary of the senate, and chief clerk of the house of representatives; and
(iv) Except for information whose release is specifically prohibited by statute or executive order, the public through the public file of whistleblower reports maintained by the auditor.
(b) The auditor has no enforcement power except that in any case in which the auditor submits an investigative report containing reasonable cause determinations to the agency, the agency shall send its plan for resolution to the auditor within fifteen working days of having received the report. The agency is encouraged to consult with the subject or subjects of the investigation in establishing the resolution plan. The auditor may require periodic reports of agency action until all resolution has occurred. If the auditor determines that appropriate action has not been taken, the auditor shall report the determination to the governor and to the legislature and may include this determination in the agency audit under chapter 43.09 RCW.
(10) Once the auditor concludes that appropriate action has been taken to resolve the matter, the auditor shall so notify the whistleblower, the agency head, and the subject or subjects of the investigation. If the resolution takes more than one year, the auditor shall provide annual notification of its status to the whistleblower, agency head, and subject or subjects of the investigation.
(11) Failure to cooperate with such audit or investigation, or retaliation against anyone who assists the auditor by engaging in activity protected by this chapter shall be reported as a separate finding with recommendations for corrective action in the associated report whenever it occurs.
(12) This section does not limit any authority conferred upon the attorney general or any other agency of government to investigate any matter.
[2008 c 266 § 4; 1999 c 361 § 3; 1992 c 118 § 2; 1989 c 284 § 3; 1982 c 208 § 4.]
Findings -- Intent -- 2008 c 266: See note following RCW 42.40.020.
Last modified: April 7, 2009