Pappas’s legislation to improve protections for VA whistleblowers advances out of committee
WASHINGTON – During a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee markup, bipartisan legislation led by Congressman Chris Pappas (NH-01), Chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC), advanced out of Committee with bipartisan support, setting it up to be voted on by the full House. The Strengthening Whistleblower Protections at the Department of Veterans Affairs Act would improve policies and procedures to better protect VA whistleblowers.
Subcommittee hearings have revealed that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees who blow the whistle on waste and fraud do so at the risk of loss of their jobs and careers. Further, whistleblowers often wait years to be made whole after experiencing retaliation under current Department policies and procedures. To ensure that whistleblowers feel safe reporting issues within the Department, this legislation makes major changes to how whistleblower claims are handled and strengthens accountability over the process. The bill ends VA’s authority to investigate whistleblower retaliation complaints and instead relies on the independent U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to ensure objectivity over the process. OSC, an independent federal investigative agency, has higher trust within the whistleblower community than OAWP. Currently, one-third of OSC’s whistleblower investigations involve VA employee complaints.
“Whistleblowers play an essential role in safeguarding the federal government against waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement,” said Congressman Pappas. “We cannot continue to allow whistleblowers to be punished for speaking out, as we have seen clear proof of for VA whistleblowers. It is not only the law, it is also the right thing to do to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. I’m glad that the full committee has advanced this legislation today and wish to thank Ranking Member Mann for partnering with me to advance this legislation. I hope our bill to strengthen the independence and mission of VA’s whistleblower office will quickly be brought to the floor of the House so we can continue to advance these important reforms.”
Specifically, this bill:
• Requires VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) to refer whistleblower disclosures and allegations of retaliation to OSC for investigation.
• Requires OAWP to strengthen accountability over settlement agreements. These are agreements between VA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) and VA employees who suffered retaliation, which provide financial restitution and guarantees of re-employment.
• Reaffirms that OAWP is responsible for training and providing information resources to VA employees on whistleblower rights.
This legislation is supported by the Project On Government Oversight, the Whistleblowers of America, and the Government Accountability Project.
“This legislation shows a clear understanding of the issues the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection has had meeting its mission. POGO is proud to support this bill to reframe the office to better support whistleblowers and bring about the needed culture change at the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Liz Hempowitz, Director of Public Policy, Project On Government Oversight.
“Whistleblowers of America is grateful for this bipartisan effort to help VA whistleblowers access better protections, and create safer proceedings that will free them from the harm of retaliation,” said Jackie Garrick, Executive Director, Whistleblowers of America.
“OAWP was a worthy idea, but in practice, it has been a Trojan horse both for whistleblowers and staff dedicated to the mission Congress legislated. This is legislation that creates a legitimate structure so that a good idea will not keep going bad,” said Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project.