Trump to Sign EO for VA Accountability 04/27 06:11
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order
creating an accountability and whistleblower protection office at the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
Trump, who made improving veterans' care a prominent issue as he campaigned
for office, was issuing the order Thursday while visiting the VA. It will
create a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection in the
department. The eventual head of the office will report directly to VA
Secretary David Shulkin.
Shulkin said the purpose is to help identify "barriers" that make it
difficult to fire or reassign employees deemed unfit to work at the department
and serve veterans.
Another function will be to help shield whistleblowers from retaliation.
The office is a byproduct of a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans
died while waiting months for appointments at the VA medical center in Phoenix.
The House has passed a bill to make it easier for the VA to fire, suspend or
demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct, and the Senate continues
to work on its version of the measure. Shulkin said Trump's decision to create
the office before Congress sends him a bill speaks to his commitment to
accountability at the VA.
"He's asking through his executive order for VA to do everything that it can
internally," Shulkin said at a White House briefing on Wednesday. "But we know
that that's not going to be enough to get done what I want to get done, which
is to be able to, once we identify people that need to leave the organization,
to get them out quickly. So I do need legislative help as well."
Veterans' organizations agree that legislation is needed, and are pressing
the Senate to act.
"Secretary Shulkin's hands will be tied until Congress passes strong
accountability legislation," said Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned
Veterans for America. Lucas said the office was a "positive first step" but not
enough to fix the culture at the VA.
The new office will also investigate reports of retaliation against VA
employees who expose illegal or unethical conduct, Shulkin said. "We will take
actions" if it is determined that an employee whistleblower has been subject to
retaliation for coming forward, he said.
Existing VA employees will staff the office, despite department-wide staff
shortages and a decision to leave thousands of positions unfilled. Shulkin said
he didn't have dollar figures for how much the office would cost, but said it
will require a "substantial commitment."