VA watchdog-in-waiting promises more whistleblower protections

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Michael J. Missal, the attorney nominated to be the Department of Veterans Affairs' first permanent Inspector General in nearly two years, has a big job ahead of him.  Assuming, of course,  that he gets the job.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, lawmakers were cheered by Missal's nomination, but worried that with the clock running out on the Obama administration, there was precious little time to accomplish much in a department that by all accounts is in dire need of independent and effective oversight.

"The Inspector General position is more important in this agency than in any other single agency in the federal government," Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said.

VA's litany of problems is familiar: schedulers manipulating the appointments system; bonuses handed out to undeserving executives in the guise of relocation payments; a hospital construction that is more than $1.3 billion over budget; problems with over-prescription of pain killers; and more. The department is, in the words of Isakson, "an organization whose management has been spotty at best."

Missal assured the committee that he would do more to protect whistleblowers who come forward with allegations of mismanagement, workarounds or criminal activity.

"If confirmed, one of my goals will be to promote an improved environment in which whistleblowers have confidence that their concerns will be fairly and effectively considered by the Office of Inspector General and that their identities will be protected from disclosure," Missal said. "I will also take the necessary steps to ensure that whistleblowers are fully aware of their right to be free from reprisal for making protected disclosures and how to seek redress from appropriate authorities if reprisal occurs."

Missal also told committee ranking member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that he would use the lever of seeking referrals of cases to the Justice Department where appropriate. And he said he would look at the "adequacy of the budget," -- about $127 million to conduct oversight of an agency that is set to spend about $71 billion in fiscal year 2016.

Lawmakers are impatient with progress in implementing reforms at the VA. While members of both parties praised the ability of Secretary Bob McDonald, there are concerns that both time and the sense of urgency are slipping away.

"Anyone can report on problems and describe what's wrong," Isakson said. "It's about time we started getting some results."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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