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Ranking Member Walz Calls On Office Of Special Counsel To Investigate VA Officials For Title 5, Hatch Act Violations

Jul 19, 2018
Press Release
Request follows reports that Acting Secretary O’Rourke and other Trump loyalists are purging or reassigning career VA employees perceived to be disloyal to President Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN), released the following statement after he led a group of nine committee Democrats in sending a letter to Special Counsel Henry Kerner requesting an investigation into whether Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Peter O’Rourke or his staff have violated the Hatch Act or other Title 5 prohibitions against removing, demoting, or reassigning Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees for political reasons. The letter follows numerous reports from press and whistleblowers alleging that Acting Secretary O’Rourke and other Trump loyalists are purging or reassigning career VA employees perceived to be disloyal to Trump before a new Secretary is confirmed by the Senate.

“Never before in our nation’s history has a President attempted to reshape the Department of Veterans Affairs to reflect his own political ideology,” said Ranking Member Tim Walz. “VA was founded on a promise to care for and improve the lives of our nation’s veterans and their families, a mission that, up until recently, has transcended politics. If these reports are true, then what Donald Trump and Acting Secretary O’Rourke are doing has absolutely nothing to do with serving veterans and everything to do with advancing a political agenda centered around the privatization of key VA programs and services. What’s more, not only would it be morally reprehensible for Acting Secretary O’Rourke to use of his temporary status to reshape the VA workforce for partisan gain, it could also constitute a violation of federal law. For that reason, I am urging Special Counsel Kerner to immediately open an investigation into whether Acting Secretary O’Rourke or any other VA employee violated the Hatch Act or other Title 5 prohibitions against removing, demoting, or reassigning employees for political purposes.”

The text of the letter is available below:

 

July 19, 2018

The Honorable Henry Kerner

Special Counsel

U.S. Office of Special Counsel

1730 M Street NW

Washington, DC 20036

 

Dear Special Counsel Kerner:

 

I write to you to request that your office open an inquiry into whether Acting Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, Mr. Peter O’Rourke and his staff have violated the Hatch Act or other Title 5 prohibitions against removing, demoting, or reassigning employees for political reasons.

 

On July 18, 2018, the Washington Post reported that Mr. O’Rourke’s office has been taking steps to purge or reassign staff perceived to be disloyal to this Administration. The article reported that there are “more than a dozen career civil servants who have been moved from the leadership suite at VA headquarters and reassigned to lower-visibility roles. The employees served agency leaders, some dating back more than two decades, in crucial support roles that help a new secretary. None say they were given reasons for their reassignments.”

 

In recent weeks, Members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs have also received information that within the Office of the Secretary, including the offices of the Executive Secretary, Protocol Office, and the Centers for Women Veterans & Minority Veterans, career employees have been removed, demoted, or reassigned for political reasons, or they resigned after being made aware of adverse personnel actions coming their way for political reasons.

 

At a July 17, 2018 hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Representative Esty asked Mr. O’Rourke whether any of these personnel changes have been made for cause, and Mr. O’Rourke responded that the changes were made for “organizational efficiency” and not for cause. It is troubling that Mr. O’Rourke confirmed that the personnel changes were not for cause.

 

As you know, 5 U.S.C. 2302(b) prohibits employment actions for political affiliations, and the Hatch Act generally prohibits certain categories of political activities for all covered employees. As the Special Counsel, you have authority to review potential Title 5 violations. I therefore request that you review the personnel changes Mr. O’Rourke has overseen during his tenure as Acting Secretary for any potential violations of the Hatch Act as well as your recommendation for any disciplinary actions.

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please contact Cathy Yu on my staff at (202) 225-6603 or cathy.yu@mail.house.gov with any questions.

 

Sincerely,

 

TIM WALZ (D-MN)

Ranking Member

 

MARK TAKANO (D-CA)

 

JULIA BROWNEY (D-CA)

 

ANN McLANE KUSTER (D-NH)

 

BETO O’ROURKE (D-TX)

 

KATHLEEN RICE (D-NY)

 

J. LUIS CORREA (D-CA)

 

ELIZABETH ESTY (D-CT)

 

SCOTT PETERS (D-CA)

 

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