The VA has carried out only two of seven recommendations GAO made in a 2020 report on sexual harassment policies at the department, a GAO witness told a recent House hearing.
That report said that while the department has policies to prevent and address harassment of employees, some are inconsistent and incomplete, that having the same officials who oversee personnel functions such as hiring and promotions also overseeing the complaint process could create a conflict of interest, and that the VA lacked a full picture of sexual harassment because it did not require managers to report all complaints nor had it assessed other available data.
The GAO credited the VA with afterward formalizing its harassment prevention policies and “has developed new mandatory training that includes more information on sexual harassment and the reporting processes available to employees.”
However, it said the oversight structure has not change, which “does not adhere to one of its key directives to ensure fair complaint processing” and that some policies and information documents are “not consistent with the overarching sexual harassment policy and some have outdated or missing information.”
Further, the has not assessed data on sexual harassment complaints or finalized plans for assessing other available data, nor has it ensured that corrective actions were taken where harassment was found because it has not “clearly specified to managers the procedures for documenting corrective actions,” it said.
The GAO said that in a survey the MSPB conducted last year, the VA “ranked as one of the federal agencies with the highest reported experience of sexual harassment” with 17 percent of employees saying they had experienced one or more harassing behaviors over the prior two years, compared with 12 percent government-wide.