By Dan Gephart, May 13, 2024

There’s a buzz at your agency about potential misconduct taking place. It’s been suggested you perform an administrative investigation. This is somewhat new to you, and you have questions, mostly:

  • What’s the goal of the investigation?
  • How do I get started?

You’ve come to the right place. However, if you are currently enveloped in an investigation and have more advanced questions, you should check out Ann Boehm’s recent Good News column, where she addressed several inquiries she’s received when doing investigations training. (If you don’t see your question, send it to Ask FELTG.)

For now, we’re going to focus on the two aforementioned questions. Let’s start with the goal of investigations: Why should you investigate?

Agency administrative investigations are usually conducted because of potential misconduct or civil rights discrimination. (Sidenote: To be clear, discriminating against or harassing employees is itself misconduct.)

For misconduct investigations, you need to know who did what and when so that management can determine the proper course of action; and if that action is discipline, to ensure that it can withstand third-party review.

This is serious stuff. As Ann wrote in Good News: “A good investigation is the foundation for effective discipline in the Federal government.”

So, there’s your mission. What you’re about to embark on is important. It’s no surprise then, that a key to a successful investigation is preparation and planning. Let’s take a look at what you need to know to get started:

  • Legal rights and obligations that apply to Federal employees who are witnesses.
  • Procedures necessary for management to take a disciplinary action.
  • Categories of actionable conduct.
  • What constitutes evidence, and how to gather it.
  • The concept of employee affirmative defenses.
  • How to properly document, store and safeguard evidence gathered during the course of an investigation.

You’ll need patience. This probably isn’t something you’re going to wrap up in a day or two.

It goes without saying that objectivity is critical. However, our brains are wired to make quick judgments on what we’ve seen. Resist the urge to jump to a conclusion, at the very least until you have every bit of evidence you can collect.

Where do you go next? How do you learn all the stuff you’re supposed to know? Ann will present Misconduct Investigations: Get Them Right from the Start on July 24. Want to dive in even further? FELTG’s Workplace Investigations Week will run Aug. 19-23. Good luck out there. [email protected]

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