You have the right … to what, exactly?


Most of the current government scandals are rooted in the results of an Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation. Subjects of an OIG investigation have limited rights, but even so, knowing your rights can make a substantial difference in the outcome of an investigation into you.


For starters, do you have a right to know who made the allegations against you or see the complaint? No. Also, don’t ask the OIG who complained about you. IG’s tend to be suspicious about why the accused wants to know who made the complaint. They think asking for an identity of the complainant is because you want to retaliate against the employee for making the complaint. Before you know it, the OIG will expand its investigation to determine whether you’ve engaged in an act of reprisal.


Likewise, you do not have a right to see the complaint or know the allegations against you. However, be patient. In any investigative process, you will be apprised of the allegations against you before and/or during the investigative interview, and in all likelihood, be able to figure out where the allegations came from.


The most common misconception which causes problems is the belief that if you haven’t done anything wrong, the investigation will clear you. If you’ve been in federal service for a while you know how the system can drill down until it finds something, anything, and the culture of many OIG’s has evolved into that mindset: keep looking, you’ll find something.


The agency has a lot of time and resources for investigating an employee, and once invested, tries to find something for all that effort. Be smart and take steps to protect yourself. Simply believing you did nothing wrong and explaining so to the investigator is not foolproof. Not many of you know the intricacies of federal criminal law, ethics law, and regulations to be in any position to determine that you did (or did not) break the law.


Believing that because you lacked criminal intent means you did not commit a crime is simply wrong. The same is true for non-criminal offenses. So concluding that you have “nothing to worry about” because you know you did not intend to violate any law or regulations is foolish. In most instances, you will benefit from seeing an attorney before your OIG interview to learn the underlying laws, rules and regulations governing your conduct.


Do you have a right to be represented by a private attorney when you are under investigation?   Yes and no. While you don’t have an actual legal “right” to an attorney unless you are under a criminal investigation, I have not encountered an IG office that refuses to allow you to be represented by an attorney and have the attorney with you in an interview regardless of whether the investigation is administrative or criminal in nature. As for investigations conducted by other internal agency entities, it varies on whether they will allow you to be represented by counsel.


Then there is the belief that, “If I get an attorney to represent me, it will signal I’m guilty when I’m not.” OIG agents don’t think that way. They view the act of getting an attorney to be a bar to their trickster tactics during the interview. Knowing your rights and being well guided minimizes your risk in the investigation, and they know it.


Also, it ensures that they treat you fairly and with respect in the interview and investigative process. Often, those who are berated in OIG interviews (when counsel is not present) become frazzled and make poorly thought out statements, which are then used against them.


Today’s environment is one of scandals, scrutiny, and accountability. I am a strong believer that knowing your rights, being educated about the OIG investigative process and tactics, and being well prepared for the actual interview, really will have an impact on how you fare in the end.


About Author

Debra Roth

Debra L. Roth is a partner at the law firm Shaw Bransford & Roth, a federal employment law firm in Washington, D.C. She is general counsel to the Senior Executives Association and the Federal Managers Association, host of the “FEDtalk” program on Federal News Radio, and a regular contributor to Federal News Radio’s “Federal Drive” morning show. Email your legal questions to

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