A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs were 10 times more likely than their peers to receive disciplinary action within a year of reporting misconduct.
That was among some of the findings from the report which also included numerous recommendations for the VA that GAO made.
GAO also found that the VA maintains 12 different information systems that various VA administrations and program offices use to collect specific information regarding their respective employees’ misconduct and disciplinary actions, and there are data-reliability issues present such as missing data, lack of identifiers, and lack of standardization among fields.
GAO also said that the VA inconsistently adhered to its guidance for documentation retention when adjudicating misconduct allegations. This means that the agency would not be able to account for approximately 1,800 case files in GAO’s estimation.
GAO said it conducted the study because misconduct among VA employees can lead to consequences for veterans, such as poor quality of care, and it was asked to review employee misconduct across the VA.
GAO issued numerous recommendations to the VA based on its findings. Among them, it said the VA Secretary should do the following:
- Develop and implement guidance to collect complete and reliable misconduct and disciplinary-action data department-wide; such guidance should include direction and procedures on addressing blank fields, lack of personnel identifiers, and standardization among fields;
- Direct applicable facility and program offices to adhere to VA’s policies regarding misconduct adjudication documentation;
- Direct the Office of Human Resource Management to routinely assess the extent to which misconduct-related files and documents are retained consistently with applicable requirements;
- Direct the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) to review responses submitted by facility or program offices to ensure evidence produced in senior-official case referrals demonstrates that the required elements have been addressed;
- Direct OAWP to issue written guidance on how OAWP will verify whether appropriate disciplinary action has been implemented; and
- Develop procedures to ensure (1) whistle-blower investigations are reviewed by an official independent of and at least one level above the individual involved in the allegation, and (2) VA employees who report wrongdoing are treated fairly and protected against retaliation.