What is the City's Whistleblower Program?
San Francisco Charter Appendix F1.107 directs the Office of the Controller to administer a whistleblower program and investigate complaints concerning the following:
- Deficiencies in the quality and delivery of city government services.
- Wasteful and inefficient city government practices.
- Misuse of city government funds.
- Improper activities by city government officers and employees.
What are some examples of complaints investigated by the Whistleblower Program?
Deficiencies in the quality and delivery of city government services:
- Non-delivery of contractually required goods.
- Non-performance of contractually required services.
Wasteful and inefficient city government practices:
- Purchase of unneeded supplies or equipment.
Misuse of city government funds:
- Misuse of city property, including money, equipment, supplies, and/or other materials.
- Improper expense reimbursements to employees or contractors.
Improper activities by city government officers and employees:
- Serious abuse of city time such as significant unauthorized time away from work or significant use of city time for personal business.
We do not investigate allegations involving:
- A private (non-city) entity, unless the private entity has a contract or grant with a city department and the allegation involves matters related to that contract or grant.
- Federal government departments, officers, and employees.
- State government departments, officers, and employees.
Who many submit information?
Do I need to identify myself?
No. We review all complaints, including those filed anonymously, to determine whether there are any issues falling within our jurisdiction and appropriate for follow-up. However, if you choose to file anonymously, our ability to follow up on your complaint may be limited.
You are strongly advised to withhold identifying information if you fear retaliation for filing a complaint.
Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code, Article IV, section 4.123, states that the Whistleblower Program may:
Disclose the identity of a person or other information to the extent necessary to conduct a civil or criminal investigation or to take any enforcement action, including any action to discipline an employee or take remedial action against a contractor.
Release information as part of a referral when referring any matter to another city department, commission, board, officer or employee, or to other governmental agencies, for investigation and possible disciplinary, enforcement or remedial action.
Release information to the Citizens Audit Review Board so that it may carry out its duty to provide advisory input to the Controller on the Whistleblower Program, provided that information is prepared so as to protect the confidentiality of persons making complaints and of investigations.
Release information to inform the public of the nature of the actions taken by the Controller in the operation of the Whistleblower Program provided that information is prepared so as to protect the confidentiality of persons making complaints and of investigations.
You are strongly advised to withhold identifying information if you fear retaliation for filing a complaint.
What complaints are referred for investigation?
Complaints that allege a violation of law which the Office of the Controller does not have jurisdiction are directed to the appropriate agency for investigation and possible disciplinary or enforcement action. The Whistleblower Program will review each complaint to determine whether it will be referred to another appropriate department for investigation.
The Whistleblower Program shall refer the following complaints:
- Those which another city agency is required by federal, state, or local law to adjudicate.
- Those which may be resolved through a grievance mechanism established by collective bargaining agreement or contract.
- Those which involve allegations of conduct which may constitute a violation of criminal law.
- Those which are subject to an existing, ongoing investigation by the District Attorney, City Attorney, or Ethics Commission, where the applicable official or Commission states in writing that investigation by the Controller would substantially impede or delay his, her, or its own investigation of the matter.
- Those which allege conduct that may constitute a violation of governmental ethics law.
Allegations that, even if true, appear immaterial or insignificant from a monetary or operational standpoint, may be referred to the city department involved in the allegation for investigation and response.
The Whistleblower Program is not a law enforcement agency. If you believe you have evidence of a crime involving a city officer, employee, or contractor, you should report your information to an appropriate law enforcement agency. The Whistleblower Program shall refer allegations of conduct which may constitute a violation of criminal law to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
The Whistleblower Program encourages you to file your complaint in writing. Generally, you should submit your complaint within 90 days of the date the alleged wrongdoing occurred. Your complaint should include, if applicable:
- Who - The employee's full name, and department.
- What - The specific violation and why you believe the activity was improper. Include the rule, regulation, policy, or law you think the employee violated.
- Where - The location where the wrongdoing occurred.
- When - The specific date and time the violation occurred.
- How much - The estimated dollar loss due to the violation.
- Why and how - A description of why and how you believe the individual perpetrated the offense.
- Copies of any documents that will support what you are alleging - Please do not submit original documents, as they cannot be returned.
How do I file a complaint?
Online - You may file a complaint online at www.sfgov.org/whistleblower. Click on the "Web Form" link on the left hand side of the page.
By Telephone - You may call the 311 Customer Service Center (311 or 415-701-2311) to file a complaint via telephone. Tell the operator that you would like to file a complaint with the Whistleblower Program.
By Mail - You may fill out a paper Whistleblower complaint form and send it to the Whistleblower Program by mail to:
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
Room 316 San Francisco, CA 94102
What happens if I file a complaint?
Upon receiving a complaint, the Whistleblower Program may conduct an investigation into the facts alleged in the complaint to determine whether an improper governmental activity has occurred.
While you may submit a complaint anonymously, we may not be able to determine whether your complaint has merit if we are not able to interview you. Submitting copies of any documents that will support your complaint is extremely helpful to our evaluation process. However, please submit copies of the documents rather than the original documents, as they cannot be returned. If we need the original documents, we will ask you for them later.
Does the Whistleblower Program investigate every complaint it receives that falls within its jurisdiction?
No. Whistleblower Program staff will evaluate your complaint and determine if the matter warrants further inquiry. Allegations that, even if true, appear immaterial or insignificant from a monetary or operational standpoint, may be referred to the city department involved in the allegation for investigation and response.
What happens during the investigation?
After the Whistleblower Program receives a complaint, any investigation resulting from the complaint is confidential. As a result, the Whistleblower Program staff cannot provide any updates about what is being done to investigate the complaint or what information has been uncovered.
Most of our investigations are completed within 90 days. However, investigations can take longer depending on several factors, including the complexity of the complaint and the number of allegations made.
Can I discuss the matter with friends and colleagues?
To protect your confidentiality and the confidentiality of the investigation, it is advisable not to discuss the matter with friends and colleagues.
No. Once you file a complaint, you cannot withdraw the complaint or prevent the Whistleblower Program from proceeding with an investigation.
Generally, no. If you have given us your name and contact information, we will contact you if we need further information in order to follow up on your allegation. Pursuant to our rules, information acquired or developed as part of an investigation is treated as confidential. If our office does not require additional information during the review of your allegations, you will not be contacted by our office.
Information about the investigation will not be released unless the Whistleblower Program substantiates that an improper activity has occurred. In this case, limited information about the issue will appear in a Whistleblower Program report, keeping confidential the identities of the individuals involved.
Can I request that a complaint be reopened?
Yes. If you have new information to support your allegations, the closure of your complaint may be reconsidered. If, on the other hand, you are merely unhappy because you do not agree with the decision to close your complaint, the Whistleblower Program will not conduct another investigation.
No. Under Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code Section 4.123(a)(ii), every officer and employee of the city shall keep confidential complaints or reports to the Whistleblower Program and information related to the investigation of the matter, including drafts, notes, preliminary reports, working papers, records of interviews, communications with complainants and witnesses, and any other materials and information gathered or prepared in the course of the investigation.
No. The City and County of San Francisco does not offer a reward for sustained whistleblower complaints.
Will the Whistleblower Program assist me in resolving a complaint if I am dissatisfied with a decision made by a city department or employee that involves me?
No. The Whistleblower Program will not act as an advocate for individuals in their disputes with city departments or employees. Many city departments have administrative processes that you may use to appeal decisions they make that affect you. If you pursue these processes and are still dissatisfied, you may wish to consider obtaining private legal counsel. The Whistleblower Program cannot and will not give legal advice.
What happens if I experience retaliation because I filed a complaint?
The Whistleblower Program does not investigate complaints of retaliation, as that responsibility has been assigned to the San Francisco Ethics Commission. If you believe you are the victim of retaliation as a result of filing a complaint with the Whistleblower Program, please contact the Ethics Commission immediately.