February 14, 2024

Ranking Member Takano's Opening Statement at Hearing on Sexual Harassment Allegations

Press Contact

Libby Carlson

WASHINGTON, DC – House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Mark Takano (CA-39) delivered the following opening remarks during the Full Committee’s hearing on sexual harassment allegations in the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion (ORMDI):

“Welcome, Mr. Secretary. I am pleased that you joined us today to offer insight into how this investigation was handled at the highest level of VA and where VA will go from here under your leadership. Accountability starts and ends with you, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that VA is a welcoming, harassment-free environment for employees and veterans alike.  

It is unfortunate that my Majority colleagues continue to intentionally mislead the public on the allegations and findings of this investigation. The inherent tension of sensitive and personal circumstances such as these is that people tend look at the situation from their own perspective, from their own corner, and can only see what is in their view. The Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection has a responsibility to look at the full scope of evidence and to provide objectivity to claims to identify the facts. OAWP fulfilled that duty.  

My staff independently came to similar conclusions as OAWP based on the hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence reviewed and I am going to walk through those findings.  

The evidence supports that there were two VA supervisors who engaged in inappropriate conduct with subordinate employees. The evidence supports that four VA supervisors failed to take prompt and appropriate action to address claims of misconduct. OAWP recommended discipline and additional training for those supervisors. This type of misconduct can never be tolerated in an organization and VA must do everything they can to restore employee confidence and morale in ORMDI. 

While OAWP substantiated some damning allegations brought forth in this investigation, it was unable to corroborate a number of serious claims about the overall climate in ORMDI. The evidence does not support that there is a culture of ORMDI leadership purposefully ignoring claims of harassment. The evidence does not support that supervisors retaliated against employees for turning down sexual advances. The evidence does not support that ORMDI senior leaders engaged in waste, mismanagement, or perjury. Finally, the evidence does not support the existence of – to use the Majority’s phrase – a systemic sexual cesspool in ORMDI.  

The conspiracy that the Majority has pushed is not reflective of reality. It’s not reflective of the facts. Facts matter. Nothing is more important than the truth.  My colleagues across the aisle are either being intentionally reckless and cavalier with the truth or willfully blind as they continue to push their narrative of widespread misconduct in ORMDI. The Speech and Debate Clause may insulate you all from accountability for the lies and half-truths you continue to spread about this investigation, but the lives and reputations you have ruined should weigh heavily on your conscience.  

This investigation uncovered troubling allegations of nepotism, tampering with Congressionally Mandated Reports, and actions by some employees who may not be contributing to the mission of ORMDI. I am requesting the Department investigate these claims more fully. Mr. Chairman, will you commit to working with me to request documents that will further the Committee’s investigation into those claims?  

I hope you will also pivot this Committee back to its core responsibilities of conducting oversight and legislating when the issues warrant policy changes. Intertwined in this investigation of misconduct is a structural issue that we in Congress created for VA that has caused some lower-level employees to be concerned that VA is not complying with the law, but the situation is more nuanced than that.  

When we passed the Cleland-Dole Act, as part of the consolidated appropriations bill, in late 2022, we included a provision that was in direct conflict with the Elijah Cummings Act, which was signed into law two years prior. We need to work with VA to address this error so that ORMDI can be aligned in a manner that is most effective to fulfill its mission.  

There are other steps this Committee should take to ensure that (a) misconduct is prevented at VA, and (b) in the unfortunate circumstances when misconduct does occur, that employees and supervisors know and trust the process to report that misconduct and seek redress. Congressman Pappas’ H.R. 6531, the TRAIN VA Employees Act would enable that. Though this bill faced almost unanimous Republican opposition when offered as an amendment at last year’s full committee mark-up, it has the co-sponsorship of every Democrat on this Committee. I urge my colleagues across the aisle to join us in making this important bill law.  

Last month, this Committee issued a subpoena for the first time in nearly eight years. The Committee compelled the production of documents, despite the fact that VA was already producing documents. The Committee has received over a terabyte of information from VA. Yet, I was confused to see a press release from the Chairman last week stating that VA has not complied with the subpoena. I do not in any way agree with that assertion. It is my belief that VA has acted in good faith and has provided information at a reasonable pace.  

This Committee is not a courtroom, we are not judges, nor are we juries. Oversight in this Committee is not a trial. Oversight is the examination of facts and policies. It is the consideration of what is working and what is not working. And in the case of this Committee, it is the assessment of what is working for veterans.  

That is the framing I will employ today as I listen to the testimony and consider the evidence before us, and I invite my colleagues to do the same.?? 

I yield back.”