President Trump this week will sign an executive order to create a new office in the Veterans Affairs Department to increase employee accountability and protect whistleblowers, according to a White House official.
The order will establish the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within VA, which has for years taken heat from lawmakers and stakeholders for failing to quickly root out problematic employees. Details of the office and who will staff it were not made clear in advance of the signing, but the official said it will help VA Secretary David Shulkin “to discipline or terminate VA managers or employees who fail to carry out their duties in helping our veterans.”
The office will also enable the secretary “identify barriers” to his ability to “put the well-being of our veterans first,” the official added.
A Senate bill introduced last by Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., to reform VA would have created an office with the same title. Isakson’s measure would have created an assistant secretary position, appointed by the president, to oversee the office. In addition to investigating allegations of misconduct, retaliation and poor performance, the office would have overseen the implementation of recommendations by the department’s inspector general. As part of his vision to increase whistleblower protections, Isakson would have required every VA employee to receive training on whistleblower rights and disclosure methods.
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Trump vowed repeatedly during his campaign to increase accountability at VA, including it as a major pillar in his plan to reform the department. Shulkin has publicly called for more authority to quickly fire malfeasant and poorly performing employees, endorsing a House-backed measure that would reduce the time and avenues workers facing negative personnel actions have to appeal.
Congress attempted to expedite firings for VA’s senior executives in a bill President Obama signed into law in 2014, but the department stopped using that authority after facing legal challenges to its constitutionality.