The question is when is an investigation purely administrative and when is it a criminal investigation. Most federal employees are aware that they must participate in agency investigations whether they want to or not. Most federal employees also know they have a constitutional right not to self-incriminate. The problem is knowing when is an administrative investigation only administrative and when does it become a criminal investigation.
An interview may start out as an administrative interview then change into a criminal interview. Another possibility is that during an administrative interview, facts may be disclosed which will later be used to conduct a criminal investigation. The possibilities and situations are virtually unlimited. Therefore the first and most important thing to do is ask for a Union Representative.
Let’s look at a scenario as it unfolds to show the dangers of a simple administrative investigation. Someone other than a bargaining unit employee, say a contractor, was seen allegedly stealing something and the agency wants to find out if the bargaining unit employee (BUE) saw anything. The BUE is questioned and says no, he didn’t see anything because he was working with Joe Blow over in Building C that day. Come to find out, Joe Blow says he was not with him that day. Now the employee has possibly submitted a false statement, and may also be charged with being off of the job site without permission. The investigator/officer may also jump to the conclusion that since the employee lied about his whereabouts, maybe he was involved in the theft with the contractor. The employee is then brought in for further questioning and it turns out the employee wasn’t at work at all that day but falsified his time card. He now has the above charge of submitting a false statement and falsifying his time card. So a case which started out as having nothing to do with the employee now leads to a proposed removal. By the way, fraud against the United States (submitting false attendance cards and receiving funds) can then be criminally prosecuted. Wow! That went from nothing, to a removal and criminal prosecution in a flash.
So what to do? First, call a Union Representative. The Union Representative can help you recognize potential problems and/or issues.
Second, ask the reason for the interview.
Third, ask if it is a criminal interview. If they say no, don’t take their word for it. If they give you a statement that says it is only administrative, ask them for an agreement of immunity from the U. S. Attorney’s Office. After all, only the U. S. Attorney can provide you immunity.
Finally, don’t talk too much and think about your answer. It is perfectly acceptable to say you do not remember rather than risk giving incorrect information.