House VA committee chairman takes closer look at sexual harassment scandal

Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) wants to interview VA to find out when leadership knew about the sexual harassment complaints and why they didn’t take action sooner.

  • The departments of Agriculture, Energy, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development have been told to begin planning for a shutdown. The Office of Management and Budget said it held a call last Friday with those agencies that are facing a lapse in funding on March 2 at midnight. OMB said Circular A-11 requires agencies to review and update their shutdown plans a week before any lapse in appropriations. Other agencies are funded through March 8. President Joe Biden will meet with congressional leaders today to discuss keeping the government funded in 2024.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to keep adding to its health care workforce this year, just at lower levels than last year. VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the Veterans Health Administration is managing its workforce under a “tighter fiscal picture.” He said VHA is also taking a more targeted approach to hiring, after the agency exceeded its hiring targets last year. “It’s not because we haven’t been able to hire. It’s because we don’t have a need. Why would we not have a need? Because we just had a great year of hiring,” McDonough said. McDonough also said VHA isn’t facing a nationwide hiring freeze or hiring pause and that there are no plans for a reduction in the VA health care workforce. “The idea that we have a hiring freeze is not correct. The idea that we are looking carefully at hiring is correct.”
  • Lawmakers say the Pentagon needs to conduct more thorough assessments of mergers and acquisitions in the defense space, as they express concerns about the Defense Department’s approach to reviewing consolidation of the defense industrial base. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) are asking for a more thorough and transparent assessment of defense business mergers and acquisitions to better understand the state of the defense industrial base. They said without more transparency, Congress cannot know whether a merger might affect defense contracts, prices, supply chain gaps and innovation.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs recently found evidence of sexual harassment carried out by senior leaders who worked in an office that normally deals with those types of complaints. But a separate investigation by the House VA Committee is entering a new phase. Committee Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.) wants to interview eight VA officials to find out when VA leadership knew about the complaints and why they didn’t take action sooner. Bost said VA didn’t act on employee allegations until November 2023, after he had sent two letters and made a phone call to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. VA’s investigation recommends firing one VA official and recouping bonuses paid to others.
  • The White House is shining a light on a major source of cybersecurity risks. In a new report, the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD) is urging the software industry to address so-called memory safety vulnerabilities. ONCD said those types of bugs, hidden in software code, are often exploited by hackers. The White House said if software developers used memory safe programming languages, they could eliminate entire classes of cyber vulnerabilities. The new report is intended to rally the technical community to address software security issues.
  • The Small Business Administration has been without a chief counsel for advocacy for more than seven years and lawmakers are calling on the White House to nominate someone immediately. The chief counsel for advocacy is an independent voice for small business within the government, who monitors and ensures agencies are complying with the Regulatory Reflexibility Act. The counsel also helps policymakers better understand issues confronting small business owners. This is the third letter to President Joe Biden from House Small Business Committee Chairman Roger Williams (R-Texas) seeking assurances that the White House would nominate someone to fill the position.
  • A new policy will increase drinking water system oversight and coordination across all Navy installations. Historically, Navy commands managed their water systems. Moving forward, Navy Installations Command will oversee the delivery of quality drinking water and ensure consistent management of systems across the service. The Navy will also establish drinking water committees at the installation, region and headquarters levels to ensure they address any water quality concerns. The policy follows the Navy's recent effort to clean up 19,000 gallons of fuel that leaked into drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

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