Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, D-5th, this week made clear to acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter O’Rourke that she won’t abide any partisan monkey business ahead of Robert Wilkie’s likely confirmation to lead the department.
Tuesday, at a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing about the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, Esty questioned O’Rourke about recent shuffling of more than a dozen career civil servants who have been moved from the leadership suite at VA headquarters and reassigned to lower-visibility roles, suggesting they may have been subject to a “loyalty test” to the Trump Administration rather than judged on competence.
“During your tenure our committee has been made aware of a significant number of career employees, who have served under multiple secretaries, these employees have been removed, demoted or reassigned or they have resigned or retired after being made aware of adverse actions coming their way,” Esty said. “It’s concerning because there are a large number of personnel changes and that brings about instability in managing such a large agency.”
Wilkie told her that the shuffling of employees were “all very well planned and designed moves to better make efficiency and effectiveness” within the agency. He explained that the reassignments were not a reflection on the individual’s competences.
“When you are talking about having an office that’s not performing the way it needs to that doesn’t always mean that a person was committing misconduct of some sort,” he said. “This means that we were not getting the performance or efficiency out of that organization that we need and sometimes it requires a change.”
Esty suggested that she wasn’t buying his explanation.
“Frankly, we are going to have to look at the backchannels — at what we are hearing — with perhaps different reasons than you are suggesting here today about the rationale for these changes,” she said. “If there is any question about whether these are loyalty concerns or other implications about why these people are being replaced that’s a very deep concern. There is no place for politics in this agency.”
The Washington Post has more on the VA controversy.