Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald speaks to reporters outside VA Headquarters in Washington in February.

Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald speaks to reporters outside VA Headquarters in Washington in February. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Federal Managers Want to Know What Will Become of Union’s VA ‘Hit List’

Groups claim VA supervisors have been harassed, threatened since July report detailing alleged bad behavior at the department surfaced.

Advocates for senior executives and federal managers want to know what the secretary of Veterans Affairs plans to do with a union report detailing the alleged bad behavior of several department supervisors.

Citing a “growing concern on the status of labor-management relations at the VA,” the Senior Executives Association and Federal Managers Association sent VA Secretary Bob McDonald a letter on Tuesday asking that he give “little creedence [sic]” to a July report compiled by the American Federation of Government Employees Local 17, allegedly at McDonald’s request. The 40-page report details alleged incidents of harassment, discrimination, bullying and incompetence by “disruptive and ineffective” managers who work in VA’s Central Office.

“We ask that you examine the personnel records of those managers and supervisors listed in the report before any actions are taken,” the groups wrote. “We call upon you to examine charges filed against them and the failure to find supportive evidence.”

SEA and FMA said they had been contacted by several managers named in the report. “While they corroborated the fact that complaints have been filed against them, complaints were often found to be unsubstantiated. Because these managers and supervisors had repeated, yet groundless, accusations against them, FMA and SEA worry that instead of thoughtfully examining constructive means to improve VA, Local 17 is personally targeting managers and supervisors and perpetuating labor-management hostility,” the letter stated.

The groups also said that since the report surfaced, they have heard from “several VA managers and supervisors who have been verbally threatened and harassed by union representatives and members.”

Some of the allegations against the managers detailed in the report are specific examples of abuse or intolerance, while others are more general criticisms of managers’ leadership abilities and communication skills.

One senior executive allegedly directed subordinates to sign documents indicating that mid-year performance reviews had taken place even though they had not; another manager played favorites with employees who share his religious beliefs, according to the report. Another supervisor, who is described as a “disgrace” with a “disordered personality,” harasses female employees, the report claimed, while others have allegedly made disparaging remarks about a subordinate’s sexual orientation, forced employees to ask for permission to use the bathroom, yelled and cursed at subordinates, and ignored requests for reasonable accommodations and advance sick leave – some from disabled veterans.

“Secretary McDonald has yet to confirm whether or not he specifically asked for this report, or even if he has received it,” said Tim Dirks, SEA Interim President. “We're seeking clarity at SEA and FMA, and if the secretary does read the report, we are kindly reminding him that the union’s report only presents one side of the story and their list of grievances should be taken with a grain of salt.”

VA responded to an inquiry about the letter on Wednesday, but could not answer whether the department had received it, or what the secretary planned to do with the report. A call to VA Secretary McDonald’s cell phone was not immediately returned. AFGE also did not immediately respond to questions about the SEA-FMA letter.

In addition, SEA and FMA have asked the leadership of four congressional committees, including Veterans’ Affairs, to investigate whether the report was compiled on official time. “While official time provides for federal labor organizations to conduct representational activities, it does not cover a union investigating agency managers and executives for the purpose of creating a ‘hit list’ of those it seeks to have removed from the agency,” the groups said in the Nov. 10 letter.