WASHINGTON -- Our nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations strongly urge the Senate to withdraw the provisions in the Continuing Resolution (CR) that will not effectively protect whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The recent scandals that rocked the VA highlight the importance of having safe channels to expose problems that threaten the health care of veterans.
Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) says:
“The language buried in this bill sounds like it’s designed to protect whistleblowers -- but it may well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For example, we have grave concerns and think it’s irresponsible to create a Central Whistleblower Office at the VA without proper independence. By housing this office within the VA, we worry it risks becoming an internal clearinghouse to help agency managers identify and retaliate against whistleblowers. This language should be removed before the Senate votes on this measure.”
Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) says:
“We’re very pleased that the whistleblower section includes protections against retaliatory investigations, among other reforms. Witch-hunts are one of the greatest threats that whistleblowers face. However, the section also has a Trojan Horse – a so-called Central Whistleblower Office. In GAP’s experience, federal agency-based whistleblower offices don't work. Consistently, they are used as a trap that identifies whistleblowers and funnels their evidence into entities with a conflict of interest that then try to cover-up the misconduct."
Bill Valdez, President of the Senior Executives Association (SEA) says:
“Historically, an agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been the recipient of whistleblower disclosures. Experienced OIG investigators and auditors have the independence, expertise, capacity, power and authority to fully and properly vet whistleblower disclosures. This formula has proven to work across government, and if there are problems with the VA OIG, Congress should work to understand and address them rather than by legislating around them. We share the fear that the proposed new Central Whistleblower Office, which is not independent, will be used by political appointees and management to retaliate against employees.
Further, the success of this new VA-specific whistleblower protocol is dependent on new obligations on supervisors and managers, who do not have the independence, experience, capacity, or power that would enable them to appropriately make determinations about disclosures. The Senate owes it to veterans and the VA employees who serve them to get this right. Therefore, we urge the Senate to eliminate the section containing these whistleblower provision to allow time for further debate and improvement.”
Emily Gardner, Health and Safety Advocate at Public Citizen says:
“The Central Whistleblower Office proposed in the CR will likely not be an effective mechanism to protect whistleblowers who bravely disclose waste, fraud, and abuse within the VA. Moreover, such an office could be used as a trap, leaving whistleblowers vulnerable to employer retaliation. We urge the Senate to protect VA whistleblowers by striking this dangerous measure from the CR.
The cultural shift that is required inside the VA must be accompanied by statutory mandates that protect whistleblowers and witnesses inside the agency. Unfortunately, the language contained in the CR is not the answer to the challenges faced by VA whistleblowers.”