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What You Need to Know if You are Questioned in a Federal Investigation

As a federal employee or contractor, you may encounter a situation where you are questioned by agency management, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), or even by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  Federal employees and contractors don’t have the same rights as private citizens in these types of investigations.  It is important to be aware of your rights in these situations, and what steps you should take if you are either the subject or a witness in a federal investigation.

  1. Contact an attorney. The investigator may want to interview you or take your statement as a witness, or you may be the investigation’s target.  Either way, the risk that you could lose your job or face other consequences justifies speaking with experienced counsel before speaking with investigators.
  2. Find out if the interview is compelled. Ask the investigator if the interview is compelled.  Federal agencies can only force their employees to speak with federal investigators if they are granted immunity from criminal prosecution for their statements.  If the interview is compelled, the agency can discipline you for refusing to comply or based on statements you make during the interview.  If the interview is not compelled, you can’t be disciplined for declining to answer questions.  Talk to an attorney before agreeing to an interview that is not compelled.  If you provide voluntary testimony, the government can use your statements to bring criminal charges against you.
  3. Ask for a Kalkines Warning. If the interview is compelled, ask for a Kalkines warning.  A Kalkines warning states that the investigators will not use your truthful statements against you in a criminal prosecution.  Get the warning in writing before answering questions.
  4. Don’t speak without a Kalkines warning or a lawyer. If the investigators will not give you a Kalkines warning and you’re uncertain whether there may be criminal action, it may be best to not provide any voluntary statement.  You should speak with experienced counsel before providing a voluntary statement.
  5. Be honest. If you do answer questions, it’s vital that you are truthful. Lying or misleading the investigators can cost you your job and could subject you to criminal perjury charges.  You are only protected from prosecution under a Kalkines warning if you answer truthfully.  Providing false statements can open you up to criminal prosecution for any underlying suspected crimes.
  6. Answer the question asked. Provide a brief answer that addresses only the question asked.  If a question can be answered with a yes or no, it is usually best to stick with that.  Volunteering information that is not needed to answer a question can cause problems.
  7. Don’t guess or estimate. If you don’t know the answer of a question, don’t guess or estimate.   Employees can get in trouble by speculating about information they don’t actually know.
  8. Keep relevant records. There may be emails, notes or other documents that support the answers you provide during any questioning.  You should make a copy of those records to use as corroboration if needed.  Do not destroy or delete any records.

Being questioned by your agency, the OIG, and especially by the FBI, is a serious matter, which could have severe consequences on your job and your freedom.  Contact us if you have questions or if you need legal advice about participating in a federal investigation.

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