A new report shows that an office designed to protect whistleblowers is actually making it easier for employers to retaliate against them. The findings in the report backup complaints that VA employees and whistleblower advocates have filed since President Trump created the department’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). The office was established under an executive order in 2017 and later codified that same year when the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act was signed into law.
While the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection was initially praised because it was expected to emphasize the rights and protections that are available for whistleblowers, that praise has since soured after the Inspector General found the whistleblower protection office was routinely sending cases featuring allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers to other branches of VA, even though the cases fall into its scope of review. According to the Inspector General, the office failed to protect the identities of complainants and even sent cases right back to “the very facilities or network offices where the complainant worked or that were the subject of the allegations.”
The report also shows that OAWP was forcing whistleblowers to sign off on the office releasing their identities before an investigation could be initiated or referred to a different office. This directly conflicts with OAWP’s obligation to maintain whistleblower confidentiality in regards to investigations for retaliation.
Although OAWP has been tasked with holding senior-level executives accountable for poor performance and misconduct, the report shows the office has failed to fulfill this duty. Thanks to unclear guidelines for how to recommend disciplinary action for high-ranking officials and insufficient means to collect necessary evidence, punishments for senior-level executives are being “mitigated by other components within VA.” Since May, OAWP has only used its special statutory authority to fire one executive.
The Inspector General also notes that the OAWP failed to investigate matters under its jurisdiction while accepting cases that should have been rejected. Under the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, OAWP is only allowed to investigate allegations of misconduct, retaliation, or poor performance for certain senior executives. It was not created to investigate any other employees or subject matters.
To read more about the issues the Inspector General found with the OAWP, click here.
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