President Trump will sign on Thursday an executive order to create a new office in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that can weed out poorly performing employees and protect whistleblowers, VA Secretary David Shulkin told reporters Wednesday night.
The order, which Trump will sign at the VA offices, will create the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, a wide-reaching office that identifies “systemic barriers that prevent us from making the right decisions.”
The order will also “make sure that we’re honoring the commitment we have to our whistleblowers that come forth and identify issues so that there’s not a retaliation against them,” Shulkin said during a media briefing at the White House.
Shulkin said the executive order will take accountability “up to the highest level” by establishing the office directly under his post. In addition, it will require the VA to conduct an internal review to make sure current efforts are not duplicative.
“We think that the staffing has gotten too large at our corporate offices," he said. "We want to make sure that our resources are out in the field where they can be helping direct service to veterans. I am not anticipating that we’re looking at adding new staff but we’re looking at using our current staff."
But the office comes with additional costs, he added.
“I don’t have the exact figure for that … [but for a] department this size … it’s not a small amount. This is going to be substantial.”
Shulkin did not say who would run the office.
The VA has been criticized for years for failing to quickly fire problematic employees, and Trump repeatedly vowed on the campaign trail that he would increase accountability at the VA.
Shulkin himself has called for more authority to quickly fire poorly performing workers.
“I think that what you’re seeing is the president’s commitment to making sure that we stay on track with this, that we’re moving aggressively, and so he’s asking through this executive order for the VA to do everything that it can internally,” Shulkin said.
“But we know that that’s not going to be enough to get done what I want to get done. … Once we identify people that need to leave the organization to get them out quickly. So I do need legislative help as well. So the House has passed a bill, the Senate is working on one. We need them to come to an agreement to be able to give the president a bill to sign.”
Shulkin was referring to a House-backed measure that would reduce the time and process that workers facing negative personnel actions have to appeal.
Trump last week signed legislation extending a program that allows military veterans to seek care outside VA hospitals, which have been long plagued by backlogs.