An office created by President Donald Trump to protect military whistleblowers is apparently doing the opposite — and is now the subject of an inspector general investigation.
Government Executive reported Tuesday that the Veterans Affairs IG is probing whether the agency's Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection retaliated against whistleblowers.
“It’s a crooked system where literally the fox is guarding the hen house," Jay DeNofrio, an administrative officer at a VA facility in Pennsylvania, told GovExec.
DeNofrio, the report noted, had been a whistleblower prior to the office's creation by Trump in 2017 when he reported a VA doctor who he said was losing mental capacity and potentially putting veterans at risk.
According to him, the OAWP "coordinated with VA headquarters to find blemishes on his own record after he reported wrongdoing. When questioning his coworkers after he blew the whistle, DeNofrio said the office told them he "does not walk on water" in spite of his protected status and that they should report him for "any instances of poor behavior."
Dan Martin, an engineer at a VA facility in Indiana, said the agency's inspector general had him secretly record conversations when he blew the whistle in 2016 — but it wasn't until OAWP got involved that "supervisors became aware of that cooperation."
"OAWP set me up,” Martin told GovExec. “They incentivized [my facility] to go after me.”
As the report noted, the office was initially touted by the Trump administration and bipartisan legislators as a means to protect and prioritize whistleblowers.
At one point, the president even said that the OAWP "protects whistleblowers who do the right thing."
"We want to reward, cherish, and promote the many dedicated employees at the VA," Trump said when he signed the bill that created the agency.
The website, meanwhile, spoke with three VA employees who said they'd been interviewed by the IG about the office.
Read more reports of the office's retaliation via Government Executive.