A VA office that receives and investigates complaints of whistleblower retaliation and misconduct or poor performance by senior leaders has said that most complaints it receives are outside its authority—but of those that meet standards for investigation, only a tiny fraction result in discipline against those accused in the complaint.
The Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection was created in the wake of scandals first arising in 2014 regarding under-reporting of waiting times for appointments, patient care and other issues; there meanwhile was a surge of complaints that higher-level officials had retaliated against employees who made those disclosures or cooperated in investigations. The office itself later became a subject of controversy, resulting in new leadership and operational changes.
In the 20 months starting in October 2018, the office received nearly 3,500 complaints but of those about 2,400 were beyond its scope and the office investigated about 400. About half alleged whistleblower retaliation, a quarter alleged misconduct by senior officials and the rest alleged both.
All of the 700 other cases, which were referred to other VA offices for investigations, involved whistleblowing—three fifths alleging violations of laws or rules, a quarter alleging abuse of authority and the remainder alleging waste, mismanagement or dangers to health or safety.
The report did not detail the outcomes of those cases, some of which are still pending—some cases at the office date to 2017—or its recommendations. However, it said that the department took disciplinary actions against only six senior officials based on misconduct and one supervisor based on whistleblower retaliation.
Completed disciplinary actions included two removals, one intended removal that was not carried out because the individual left the VA in the meantime, and a demotion; a recommended suspension against another was not carried out.