News from the White House: On May 2, 2017, the President issued Executive Order 13,793. The Executive Order creates a new office at the Department of Veterans Affairs focusing on whistleblower reprisal and disciplinary issues.
Recent years have seen a spate of fraud, waste and misconduct allegations involving Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) operations, with related whistleblower reprisal issues coming to light as well, leading to a substantial number of whistleblower reprisal cases against DVA pending at the Office of Special Counsel of late. As a result, Congress passed a statute truncating adverse action appeal rights for DVA SES employees, as previously analyzed in this blog. This statute was allegedly to facilitate punishment of retaliators and managers engaging in fraud, waste and abuse. This statute created controversy when implemented, and were later partially struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
The new Executive Order creates a new office within DVA, with several functions. First, the new office will assist the Secretary in seeking discipline of employees who have “violated the public’s trust and failed to carry out his or her duties”. The new office is also supposed to identify barriers to imposing discipline on employees, including recommendation of possible new legislation regarding those “barriers.” This office is also supposed to facilitate resolution of whistleblower complaint and whistleblower retaliation issues.
Whether this new office will serve to protect whistleblowers and root out fraud and corruption–or instead serve as an avenue for continued attempts to reduce civil service protections for DVA and other civil service employees–remains to be seen.