Johnson: “Even in divided government, you understand we must honor the promises to the finest among us and provide them with quality care.”
WASHINGTON — Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee took a crucial step Tuesday toward increased transparency at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the protection of whistleblowers in the federal government by considering two nominations.
The committee held a hearing to consider the nominations of Michael Missal to be the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Carolyn Lerner as Special Counsel for the Office of Special Counsel.
Johnson said in an opening statement that he was particularly pleased to be “considering a permanent nominee for the VA Office of Inspector General.” That agency, meant to be an independent watchdog over the VA, has been without a permanent leader for more than two years. For more than a year, Johnson has been calling on President Obama to appoint a permanent inspector general, a move crucial to the office’s independence.
The VA has been plagued with failures in patient care, including the overprescription of opiates at the Tomah, Wis., Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a scandal that has resulted in the deaths of veterans. In June 2015 the VA Office of Inspector General released a white paper attacking the credibility and character of Tomah whistleblowers. Sen. Johnson authored a bill named for Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a whistleblower at Tomah who took his own life after being fired for questioning excessive prescription practices at the facility. This bill was unanimously approved by the committee.
“We need to rectify the problems at the VA in the Office of Inspector General,” Johnson said last week. “My goals are to bring accountability and transparency to the VA and the VA Office of Inspector General, to enhance whistleblower protections, and to ensure that the finest among us receive the high quality care they deserve.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, he was clear with the nominees: “Moving forward, it is vital that this committee receive the full cooperation of the VA OIG so we can fully understand the failures that led to the tragedies in Tomah and to enact the necessary reforms to enhance whistleblower protections and prevent future tragedies.”
Sen. Johnson also authored language included in the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act requiring all VA inspector general reports be posted on the office’s public website no later than three days after they are final.
Johnson and other committee members called on Missal to provide information they request regarding issues within the Department of Veterans Affairs and to help get to the bottom of the problems that persist there. Missal agreed.
“Even in divided government, you understand we must honor the promises to the finest among us and provide them with quality care. You are the tip of the spear to provide that transparency and accountability toward accomplishing that shared goal,” Johnson said.
Watch the full hearing here.
Chairman Johnson’s opening statement can be found here.
Witness testimony can be found here.