The recent scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs exposed a broken oversight system that failed to protect whistleblowers or hold those who retaliated against them accountable, Project On Government Oversight (POGO) Executive Director Danielle Brian told a Senate panel today.
POGO’s investigation into abuses within the VA uncovered many whistleblowers who said they were afraid to approach the VA Office of Inspector General (IG) because of the VA’s toxic culture of retaliation and intimidation. Rather than offering a safe haven for whistleblowers, the VA IG was a large part of the problem, Brian told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies.
“These fears appear to be well-founded. We believe the VA IG is an example of oversight at its worst,” Brian said.
While the departure of the former acting IG is welcome, there’s still a dire need for President Obama to appoint a permanent IG to the Department. The permanent position has been vacant for more than a year and a half.
Whistleblower protections need to be strengthened, Brian said. Congress should update legislation so that it meaningfully codifies accountability for those who retaliate against whistleblowers. Congress should also extend whistleblower protections to contractors and veterans who raise concerns about medical care provided by the VA.
Last year, more than 800 current and former VA employees and veterans contacted POGO with whistleblower claims. POGO received multiple credible submissions from 35 states and the District of Columbia.
“In our 34-year history, POGO has never received as many submissions from a single agency,” Brian said.