The Department of Veterans Affairs may be in total violation of Office of Special Counsel (OSC) policy not to use monitoring technologies to retaliate against whistleblowers.
The Washington Examiner reported last week that the department has maintained a secret list of whistleblowers, whose emails are all being covertly forwarded to the office of Robert McDonald, the Secretary of the VA, for observation.
The Office of Special Counsel, an agency which investigates federal government whistleblower complaints, anticipated this practice of spying all the way back in 2012 and instated a policy to nip it in the bud.
“We strongly urge executive departments and agencies (agencies) to evaluate their monitoring policies and practices, and take measures to ensure that these policies and practices do not interfere with or chill employees from using appropriate channels to disclose wrongdoing,” Carolyn Lerner, head of the OSC, wrote in the memo.
Lerner also reiterated the policy in an interview with The Washington Post a week after the OSC issued the memo, saying, “We are also doing our best to get the word out to all government agencies that whistleblower retaliation in any form is unacceptable and against the law. For example, I recently sent a memo to all federal agencies explaining that it is retaliatory and unlawful to monitor the communications of an employee because that employee has engaged in whistleblowing.”
The reason targeting with monitoring technologies is dangerous is because it undermines the ability of whistleblowers to disclose serious problems in the federal government.
Further, Lerner also added that monitoring communication of VA employees with the OSC or the inspector general was highly suspect. But according to one whistleblower, after he reached out to Congress and met with congressional staff, he was immediately placed on leave without pay.
In other words, that memo does not appear to have dissuaded the VA. The list of monitored whistleblowers was labeled “Sec Divert Internal.” Officials at the department immediately scrambled for a response, stating that the reason the office was reading all whistleblower emails was so that the department could more readily address their concerns.
“As part of the Secretary’s commitment to changing the culture of VA to provide better customer service to Veterans and to empower employees, because it is their work that makes VA better for our veterans, certain emails received by the secretary and deputy are immediately forwarded to VA’s client relations team for priority review and quick action,” a VA spokesperson told The Washington Examiner.
Whistleblowers didn’t buy the department’s explanation for a second.
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