Pappas Presses VA on Failure to Address Sexual Harassment
Today, House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee Chairman of Oversight and Investigations, Chris Pappas (NH-01) held a joint hearing with the Women Veterans Task Force entitled, “Safety for All: Ending Sexual Harassment in the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The hearing was prompted by an alarming federal survey which estimated that 1 in 5 VA employees experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in 2014-2016, and a new report from GAO entitled “Sexual Harassment: Inconsistent and Incomplete Policies and Information Hinder VA’s Efforts to Protect Employees.”
During the hearing Pappas pressed the VA Acting Deputy Secretary, Pamela Powers, on why the VA hasn’t done enough to address sexual harassment at the Department. Pappas also announced that he will be introducing legislation that will hold the Department accountable and require VA to implement GAO’s recommendations in a timely manner.
Findings from the OIG report that Pappas will require VA to work on include:
- VA does not require reporting of all sexual harassment complaints. While the Department compiles information on allegations, it “does not require managers who receive complaints to report them to VA centrally.”
- VA’s leadership structure is improper and creates potential conflicts of interests regarding how VA oversees its sexual harassment process. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sets EEO policy for federal agencies. In November 2017, the EEOC first informed the Department that VA’s organizational structure does not adhere to EEO guidance which provides that officials overseeing its internal equal employment opportunity complaint process should not also oversee personnel functions since a central function of the equal employment opportunity process is to criticize an agency’s personnel practices when inadequate or ineffective.
- VA has incomplete and outdated policies, information and training. GAO found “outdated and missing information” as it reviewed policy and guidance documents. GAO also found a “lack of understanding among some VA staff about which policies are official, current policies on sexual harassment. VA needs clear and complete formal policies across the agency to have an effective prevention program.