Groups call on Senate to Adopt VA Whistleblower Protections

    Tom Devine Posted by Tom Devine.

    Tom Devine is legal director of the Government Accountability Project, where he has worked to assist thousands of whistleblowers to come forward and has been involved in the all of the campaigns to pass or defend major whistleblower laws over the last two decades.

    Yesterday, more than 35 organizations and whistleblowers called on Senate leadership to adopt strong whistleblower protections for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employe....

    Yesterday, more than 35 organizations and whistleblowers called on Senate leadership to adopt strong whistleblower protections for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees and contractors.

    On July 30th, National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, the House passed robust protections for VA whistleblowers as Section 4 of the VA Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 1994). On September 14th a diverse spectrum of organizations, ranging from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance to Veterans for Common Sense and American Civil Liberties Union, sent a letter to Senate leadership and VA Committee leadership that urges the Senate to adopt similar reforms.

    The letter states –

    Section 4 of H.R. 1994 is a major breakthrough in the struggle for VA whistleblowers to gain credible rights when defending the integrity of the agency mission and disclosing quality of care concerns. Further, it would provide a system to hold employees accountable for their actions when they retaliate against those exposing waste, fraud, or abuse.

    Specifically, the whistleblower provision approved in the House –

    imposes a legal requirement for each level within the chain of command to act on whistleblowing disclosures in a timely, transparent manner

    closes the loophole for VA’s primary vehicle to retaliate against agency professionals – retaliatory investigations disguised as peer reviews

    imposes stepped up personal accountability through requiring heightened penalties after findings that merit system has been violated

    strengthens accountability by forcing merit system violators to repay their bonuses

    challenges camouflaged retaliation by reinforcing protection against agency efforts to purge whistleblowers from contractor ranks; and

    fosters prevention by integrating Office of Special Counsel and OIG Whistleblower Ombudsman into stepped-up training that spotlights the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act's new “anti-gag” provisions.

    The letter raises concerns, however, about language in H.R. 1994 that would in fact weaken due process rights for non-whistleblowers. It asserts, “Along with whistleblowing, due process rights exist to protect the merit system as the essential foundation for non-partisan, professional public service”

    Despite 2012 passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act – legislation that overhauled protections for federal whistleblowers – the need for additional VA rights couldn’t be more urgent. On National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) highlighted the unprecedented workload at the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which has received a near 70% increase in whistleblower complaints since 2008. He was joined by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who called for a sea-change in culture at the VA and acknowledged the OSCs proactive efforts to protect whistleblowers, including 40 disciplinary actions against responsible officials at the VA.

    To get involved with the campaign to strengthen protections for VA whistleblowers, contact GAP legislative Director Shanna Devine at [email protected] or 202.457.0034, ext. 132.

    The full letter can be viewed here

    Letter signatories include:

    ACORN 8
    American Civil Liberties Union
    Bogdan Dzakovic (Aviation Security Whistleblower)
    Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
    Collaborative Alliances of America
    Council for a Livable World
    Drum Majors for Truth
    Federal Ethics Center
    Federally Employed Women – Legal Education Fund
    Golden Badge
    Government Accountability Project
    Gun Owners of America
    International Association of Whistleblowers
    Judicial Engineering Documented and Impeded
    Law Office of Elaine Mittleman
    Liberty Coalition
    National Forum on Judicial Accountability
    National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc
    National Whistleblowers Center
    OAK (Organizations Associating for the Kind of Change America Really Needs)
    Peace Action
    Plea for Justice Program
    Power Over Poverty Under Laws of America Restored
    Project On Government Oversight
    Public Citizen
    Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
    Robert MacLean (Federal Air Marshal Whistleblower)
    Sunlight Foundation
    State Community Councils
    Taxpayers for Common Sense
    Taxpayers Protection Alliance
    The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
    The Coalition for Change, Inc.
    Thomas Day (Coast Guard Whistleblower)
    Veterans for Common Sense
    Whistleblower Support Fund

    Shanna Devine