The Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblower protection office has “significant deficiencies” and “floundered in its mission to protect whistleblowers” according to an inspector general report made public on Thursday.
The office was created by an executive order President Donald Trump signed in his first 100 days in office, and then included in a whistleblower protection law Congress passed later that summer.
But in the two years since, the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection has failed “to consistently conduct investigations that were procedurally sound, accurate, thorough, and unbiased,” the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded.
Trump created the office to send the message that “we will never tolerate substandard care for our great veterans” amid longstanding issues with the department’s services. A CNN investigation in 2014 uncovered a scandalous wait list at the Phoenix VA hospital and instances of veterans dying while awaiting care. An inspector general investigation later found that whistleblowers who raised concerns were not protected from retaliation.
The latest damning report finds the office is not living up to its promise.
It found the office has referred whistleblower reports to the office where the wrongdoing was said to have occurred without taking “sufficient steps to protect complainants’ identities.”
It also “investigated criminal matters involving possible felonies” and discrimination allegations rather than referring those to other investigators, as required by law.
The assistant secretary overseeing whistleblower issues, Tamara Bonzanto, wrote in a memo attached to the report that the office “independently identified many of the issues highlighted” and “continues to improve under its new leadership.”
“VA’s institutional approach to accountability is completely different than that of past administrations, and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (the Act) has been a key factor in that culture change,” Bonzanto wrote.