On Jan. 11, 2024, members of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee voted to subpoena records from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that could shed light on the committee’s investigation of shocking allegations of sexual harassment at the highest levels of the agency. All but one representative on the panel voted yes, an overwhelmingly bipartisan statement that these members take their oversight responsibilities seriously.
Allegations of harassment at ORMDI
According to Government Executive, the subpoena will allow the committee to gather documents relevant to sexual harassment allegations at the VA Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion (ORMDI). Ironically, this office helps prevent and resolve internal disputes involving discrimination and harassment allegations.
In Nov. 2023, two VA whistleblowers brought allegations of sexual harassment by three officials at the ORMDI to the House committee. Allegations included sexual relationships with subordinate employees, negative treatment of those who refused advances, and “graphic” and “disturbing” text messages to the employees.
The subpoena vote
The whistleblowers’ allegations started the chain of events culminating in the subpoena vote. The chair, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., reportedly reached out to the VA secretary for related information, which Bost said he never received, reports Government Executive. The January subpoena vote was a response to this and to the VA’s slow investigation.
Bost did not want to leave investigation to the agency alone, but rather chose to move forward with the panel’s own broad inquiry. He stated that the committee had not used its subpoena power since 2016 and that the step is “extraordinary.” Still, the VA says it will turn over its final report to the panel at the end of January, according to the article.
Bost reportedly wants to see the actual details of events behind the allegations as well as of the agency’s response. He also seeks to “determine whether VA has the authority it needs to appropriately discipline offenders and actually have a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for sexual harassment.”
We will continue to bring updates to this story to readers in this space as they develop. Anyone who works in the vast VA system and has concerns about sexual harassment should speak with an attorney experienced in representing federal employees in employment law disputes.
In the meantime, we recently provided two articles about related matters. One discusses sexual harassment of federal employees generally and the other whistleblower retaliation at the VA.