Acting VA secretary promises protections for agency whistleblowers

Acting Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson issued a message Friday to all VA employees saying he will not tolerate retaliation against workers who expose misconduct and other problems within the agency.

“Protecting employees from reprisal is a moral obligation of VA leaders, a statutory obligation and a priority for this department,” Gibson said. “We will take prompt action to hold accountable those engaged in conduct identified as reprisal for whistleblowing, and that action includes disciplinary action.”


Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson speaks about the scheduling scandal at the VA hospital in Phoenix on June 5. (Laura Segall/Getty Images)

The message came roughly one week after the Office of Special Counsel, a federal investigative and prosecutorial agency that protects federal employees, said it investigating claims of retaliation against 37 whistleblowers, including workers who tried to report actions relating to the agency’s recent scheduling scandal. The complaints include allegations that managers demoted, suspended and otherwise punished employees who tried to expose inappropriate record-keeping practices at VA hospitals, OSC said.

MORE: Federal investigators probe alleged VA retaliation against 37 whistleblowers

Gibson said input from front-line staff is critical to the success of the VA. He reminded employees that they can report problems to the OSC, the VA’s Office of Inspector General, the Merit Systems Protection Board and Congress.

Below is the full text of his message:

Our core VA values are Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence — “I CARE.” To get to excellence, we rely on the integrity, experience, observations, insights, and recommendations of VA’s front-line staff, those who work professionally and compassionately with Veterans each and every day. Indeed, we value that input and rely on it to help us better serve Veterans.

Leaders are responsible for establishing a workplace atmosphere in which employees are comfortable highlighting and sharing their successes—as well as identifying areas in which we can improve. Whether that means notifying managers and supervisors of isolated gaps or bringing attention to larger, systemic issues that impede excellence, it is important that all employees are encouraged to report deficiencies in care or services we provide to Veterans. Relatively simple issues that front-line staff may be aware of can grow into significantly larger problems if left unresolved. In the most serious cases, these problems can lead to and encourage improper and unethical actions.

Across VA, I expect workplace environments that enable full participation of employees. I expect employees to bring to the attention of their managers and supervisors shortcomings in the delivery of our services to Veterans or any perceived violations of law or official wrongdoing—including gross waste, fraud, or abuse of authority. And I want to make clear that intimidation or retaliation against whistleblowers—or any employee who raises a hand to identify a legitimate problem, make a suggestion, or report what may be a violation of law, policy, or our core values—is absolutely unacceptable. I will not tolerate it.

We all have a responsibility for enforcing appropriate workplace behavior. Protecting employees from reprisal is a moral obligation of VA leaders, a statutory obligation, and a priority for this Department. We will take prompt action to hold accountable those engaged in conduct identified as reprisal for whistleblowing, and that action includes appropriate disciplinary action.

You have several avenues of redress if you are confronted with whistleblower reprisal. These avenues include reporting whistleblower reprisal to a VA management official, to VA’s Office of Inspector General (1-800-488-8244 or www.va.gov/oig), to the Office of Special Counsel (www.osc.gov), to the Merit Systems Protection Board (www.mspb.gov), and to Congress. You may also find helpful the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Programs (www.whistleblowers.gov).

We will continue to depend on the service of VA employees and leaders who place the interests of Veterans above and beyond self-interest; who serve Veterans with dignity, compassion, and dedication; who live by VA’s core values of Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence; and who have the moral courage to help us serve Veterans better by helping make our policy and procedures better.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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