The Senate-passed bill on disciplinary procedures for employees of the VA (S-1094) also seeks to address a side effect of the patient scheduling and care scandal that spurred those provisions: the surge in complaints by VA employees that they suffered retaliation for making disclosures or for cooperating with investigations into allegations made by other employees.

The bill would put into law the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection that the VA recently created under an executive order, while adding some responsibilities. It would provide advice and recommendations on those matters directly to the Secretary; receive whistleblower disclosures and refer them to the IG or other internal investigative offices; and report annually, including making recommendations for changes in law or policy.

That office also is to receive, investigate and recommend discipline in cases of alleged misconduct or poor performance by SES members and other senior officials, as well as for supervisors if whistleblower retaliation is alleged.

Also under the bill, treatment of whistleblowers would become a standard part of a supervisor’s job performance rating criteria; all employees would receive annual training on whistleblower protections; and the VA would have to report on whether the methods it uses to investigate employees are used to retaliate against whistleblowers.

Further, while the bill would in general shorten the notice, response and appeal process in disciplinary cases, certain additional protections would apply if employees allege the action was reprisal for whistleblowing.