On April 27, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order to improve accountability at the VA and protect whistleblowers. This order gives the VA 45 days to create an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. A Special Assistant will be the Executive Director of the new office and will report directly to the VA Secretary.
On May 12, just 15 days after the signing of the Executive Order, VA Secretary David Shulkin announced the creation of this Office and named Peter O’Rourke as Senior Advisor and Executive Director.
The duties of the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection include helping the Secretary use all available resources to either discipline or fire employees who fail to adequately care for the needs of our veterans. Handling veterans’ complaints on wrongdoing quickly and efficiently will be a primary goal of this Office.
In addition, the Executive Director will work to identify legal roadblocks that make it difficult for the VA to either discipline or fire employees who have endangered the life or health of a veteran. Once these barriers have been identified, the Secretary can seek to change those laws by working with Congress. The Executive Director will work with other VA departments to ensure that reports or complaints of wrongdoing are investigated thoroughly and quickly and that VA-wide corrections are speedily put in place.
This Office will also work with the Secretary to protect whistleblowers from any type of retaliation, thereby creating an environment where problems can be reported without fearing of losing one’s job.
In another positive light, the Director will help to identify any legal barriers that limit the VA’s ability to hire, reward, and/or keep outstanding employee performers so that the Secretary can seek legislative solutions from Congress.
Along similar lines, both houses of Congress have reached bipartisan support for reform bills that would make it possible for the VA to more easily achieve these accountability goals. The bills are still in committee and both Houses are working to come to an agreement on a final version to send to the President. We will continue to monitor this legislation and report on any progress.