President Donald Trump’s political appointees at the Department of Veterans Affairs not only failed to follow a law meant to protect whistleblowers and discipline employees but used the law to target whistleblowers, according to a new report.
The VA’s inspector general said the department’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection”investigated things it shouldn’t have, didn’t investigate things it was required to and bungled the investigations it did do. It also misspent funds,” ProRepublica reported.
According to the IG report, the whistleblower office “acted in ways that were inconsistent with its statutory authority while it simultaneously floundered in its mission to protect whistleblowers.”
And although the law was intended to hold senior officials accountable, only one top official has been fired while the law was used more than 8,000 times against low-level employees for infractions as minor as arriving late to work.
ProPublica said a significant portion of the misconduct took place under former director Peter O’Rourke, a Trump campaign loyalist who led the agency for a short time.
“In one instance described in the report, O’Rourke and his successor dismissed allegations of retaliation, harassment and discrimination against a fellow political appointee who golfed with O’Rourke,” the publication reported.
Another incident involved O’Rourke retaliating “against one of his own employees in the accountability office, trying to fire him after he reported inappropriate interference in a disciplinary matter.”
The IG report also states that the office regularly handed off complaints to the divisions whose leaders were the subject of allegations, making it more possible for them to retaliate against those who voiced concerns.
The Justice Department is investigating another misconduct allegation in which O’Rourke’s successor, Kirk Nicholas, presided over a $2.6 million expenditure on two contracts — a total of 15 percent of the office’s budget — that did not appear related to the office’s mission.
“The report did not identify the vendors, but it said the director had a personal tie to some of the bidders, and he tried to cancel one of the contracts when it went to someone else,” ProPublica noted.