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Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham

Representing the 1st District of New Mexico

Rep. Lujan Grisham Leads Letter to New VA Secretary on National Whistleblower Day

Jul 30, 2018
Press Release
Members Call For Implementation of GAO Investigation Recommendations to Protect Whistleblowers

 

Rep. Lujan Grisham Leads Letter to New VA Secretary on National Whistleblower Day

Members Call For Implementation of GAO Investigation Recommendations to Protect Whistleblowers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On National Whistleblower Day, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01) led a bipartisan group of 19 Members of Congress in sending a letter on whistleblower protections to new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie.

The continued call for reforms and improvements to whistleblower protections follows a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation and report, “Actions Needed to Address Employee Misconduct Process and Ensure Accountability,” which was co-requested by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM-01) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-6) on March 23, 2015. The investigation uncovered serious issues with the VA’s protection of whistleblowers, handling of allegations of misconduct, waste, fraud, and abuse, and offered a set of recommendations to address those systemic issues.

“In the cases reviewed, the GAO found that some VA officials who were found guilty of misconduct received a lesser punishment than recommended or no punishment at all; whistleblowers were 10 times more likely to receive disciplinary action the year they spoke up than their peers; 66 percent of the employees who filed formal whistleblower complaints did not work for the VA the following year; and some employees investigated complaints against themselves,” the Members wrote.

The Members continued: “The VA must cultivate a culture of trust and openness, and empower employees to report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.  That is why we urge the VA to immediately implement the GAO’s recommendations. These recommendations include ensuring that the VA maintains reliable record-keeping and documentation for its misconduct investigations; the VA follows its own rules and procedures for investigating and adjudicating misconduct investigations; and all recommended adverse actions against guilty employees are recorded and implemented.  The recommendations also call for independent review and oversight of senior official misconduct to ensure these officials are held accountable for their actions.”

The following Members joined in signing the letter: Reps. Mike Coffman, Peter A. DeFazio, Ben Ray Luján, Yvette D. Clarke, Tom O’Halleran, Bobby L. Rush, Kyrsten Sinema, Walter B. Jones, Steve Pearce, Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S, Kathleen M. Rice, Scott H. Peters, Ann McLane Kuster, Ron Kind, Daniel W. Lipinski, Ted S. Yoho, DVM, James P. McGovern, and Colleen Hanabusa.

Full text of the letter follows and can be viewed here.

July 30, 2018

The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Ave, N.W.

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Wilkie,

Congratulations on your confirmation as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. We look forward to working with you to ensure that our veterans promptly receive the benefits they have earned through their service to our nation.  To ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can fulfill its important mission, it is vital that its work force is properly trained, led, and accountable.  To that end we call your attention to the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled, “Actions Needed to Address Employee Misconduct Process and Ensure Accountability” and urge the VA to immediately implement the recommendations outlined in that report.  The GAO reviewed a representative sample of 544 misconduct cases from 2009-2015 and examined a non-generalizable sample of whistleblower disclosures from 2010-2014. The GAO’s investigation uncovered serious issues with the VA’s record-keeping, its protection of whistleblowers, and its handling of allegations of misconduct, waste, fraud, and abuse.

In the cases reviewed, the GAO found that some VA officials who were found guilty of misconduct received a lesser punishment than recommended or no punishment at all; whistleblowers were 10 times more likely to receive disciplinary action the year they spoke up than their peers; 66 percent of the employees who filed formal whistleblower complaints did not work for the VA the following year; and some employees investigated complaints against themselves.

It is clear that to date the VA has failed to protect whistleblowers and hold senior VA officials accountable for misconduct.  These problems are not new, and we have heard similar complaints from VA employees, veterans, and their loved ones for years.  This type of turmoil is completely unacceptable for an agency tasked with managing the federal government’s most solemn and important responsibilities: caring for the brave men and women who were injured or traumatized defending our nation.

The VA must cultivate a culture of trust and openness, and empower employees to report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.  That is why we urge the VA to immediately implement the GAO’s recommendations.  These recommendations include ensuring that the VA maintains reliable record-keeping and documentation for its misconduct investigations; the VA follows its own rules and procedures for investigating and adjudicating misconduct investigations; and all recommended adverse actions against guilty employees are recorded and implemented.  The recommendations also call for independent review and oversight of senior official misconduct to ensure these officials are held accountable for their actions.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important and serious matter.  We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

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