The recently established internal office tasked with protecting whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs is not doing its job, according to a report from the agency’s inspector general (IG).
Established in 2017, VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) is beset with “significant deficiencies” in each area it probed, the IG stated in its Oct. 24 report to Congress. The office referred cases to outside entities that it should have investigated in-house, probed matters outside of its bailiwick, and committed errors at the highest level of leadership that “distracted from the … core mission and undermined the confidence of some whistleblowers, chilling reporting,” the IG stated. The OAWP’s failure to provide clear guidance also led to inaccurate rulings, “perceived bias,” and probes that lacked necessary thoroughness as well.
The IG did note that the agency’s new leadership, which took over in January, must face a “magnitude of challenges” and make “significant enhancements” in order to bring VA into compliance with whistleblower-protection laws. The IG recommended that OAWP should:
• Revise performance plans and required training for supervisors.
• Train all VA employees in proper whistleblower protection.
• Meet the statutory standards for whistleblower protection as established by Congress.
• File systems of records notices.
• Disclose routine use of information.