Chairman Bost Provides Update on Committee’s Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct at VA
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.), delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the Committee’s business meeting to discuss the investigation into whistleblowers allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct within VA’s Office of Resolution Management, Diversity, and Inclusion (ORMDI). ORMDI is the office charged with preventing sexual harassment and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within VA. The Department has yet to fully fulfill the Chairman’s request for documents pertinent to the Committee’s investigation.
Good morning and thank you for being here.
Before we begin our hearing, there is one item of committee business that I would like to address –
Consideration of a resolution for the issuance of a subpoena to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I now call up the resolution and ask the clerk to report it.
The resolution was circulated in advance, pursuant to Committee rules.
Without objection, the first reading is dispensed with.
The resolution is open to amendment at any point.
I now recognize myself to explain the resolution.
The resolution would authorize the issuance of a subpoena to V. A. to produce documents related to this Committee’s investigation into the Office of Resolution Management, Diversity, and Inclusion, otherwise known as O.R.M.D.I.
Before I go over the details of this investigation, I want to address the significance of the resolution we are considering today.
Subpoenas from this Committee are extraordinary and rare.
As you know, I do not have unilateral subpoena power, like many of my colleagues who Chair other Committees.
According to our Committee rules, before I issue a subpoena it must be approved by a majority vote.
The last time the House Veterans Affairs Committee issued a subpoena was in 2016.
In light of this, I do not take the step of issuing a subpoena today lightly.
However, the horrific nature of the alleged misconduct and the Department’s failure to act properly and quickly, has led us to this point.
Whistleblowers – women who have endured sexual harassment – were stonewalled by V.A., so they turned to Congress for something to be done.
That in itself is unacceptable.
And as a husband and father of daughters, it makes me sick.
I have seen damning evidence of sexual harassment that was ignored by senior officials at V.A. for months.
If it was not for the brave whistleblowers and this Committee’s investigation, there is no telling when or if V.A. would have taken these sexual harassment allegations seriously.
I sent two letters to the Secretary which I did not initially make public.
In these letters I asked V.A. to explain why an alleged sexual harasser had not been disciplined or at least re-assigned pending an investigation by the Department.
45 days after my first letter,
Without receiving any response from V.A.,
I called the Secretary out of courtesy and then made my investigation public.
It was only after this investigation became public that V.A. acted on these allegations.
From day one, this Committee has listened to these victims when V.A. failed to.
This Committee investigated these accusations when V.A. did not.
And now the Department wants us – Congress – to wait for them to complete their investigation before this Committee proceeds with our own investigation.
Another week or three sounds fine unless you’re the one being sexually harassed.
That doesn’t work for me.
V.A. will tell you all about how they are now investigating these accusations, and I am glad they are finally taking this seriously.
But I have now sent seven letters to the Department,
Two of the senior leaders involved in this, including a politically appointed Assistant Secretary, have left the Department,
And many of this Committee’s questions have not been fully answered.
The brave whistleblowers that came forward trusted that this Committee would make sure V.A. lives up to its zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
As a coequal branch of government, it is our responsibility to oversee the executive branch and exercise subpoena authority when necessary.
I urge my colleagues to consider the importance of our collective oversight responsibility as Members of Congress as I describe the series of facts that make this subpoena necessary.
In September, my staff was contacted by the first of many whistleblowers alleging sexual harassment and misconduct in V.A.’s O.R.M.D.I. office.
My staff and I have spent weeks reviewing evidence and speaking with whistleblowers during this investigation.
The story these brave whistleblowers have shared with this Committee is graphic and appalling.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Harvey Johnson, the head of the O.R.M.D.I. office, appeared before our O&I Committee in July 2022, then Chaired by Mr. Pappas, preaching his policy of “zero-tolerance” for sexual harassment.
I have received evidence from around the same time he testified before this Committee, he was ignoring complaints of sexual harassment from his subordinates.
In the following months, Mr. Johnson himself was the subject of allegations of improper relationships with female subordinate employees.
Mr. Johnson was eventually reassigned and later retired while under investigation.
After I made this investigation public.
I have also received damning evidence of sexual harassment by Archie Davis, the O.R.M.D.I. Chief of Staff.
Today, you will only see a portion of the text messages he sent to the victim.
Some of the text messages he sent are too graphic and frankly disgusting, to publicly display, but all members of this committee have had a chance to review the disturbing material in full.
Further, Gary Richardson, a supervisor within O.R.M.D.I, has also been at the center of several sexual harassment allegations.
Mr. Davis and Mr. Richardson were both detailed to different offices in V.A. and are under investigation.
Again, this only occurred after I made this investigation public.
Gina Grosso, the former Assistant Secretary for Human Resources who oversaw the O.R.M.D.I. office was ultimately responsible for whether these accusations were properly investigated.
In November she announced her resignation.
Once again, this was after I made this investigation public.
Here is an organizational chart for O.R.M.D.I.
These retirements, reassignments, and internal investigations are a direct result of this Committee’s investigation.
Here is a timeline of events.
As I said earlier, I initially sent two letters to the Department about these allegations.
After receiving no response, I called the Secretary on November 13th and let him know how serious these allegations are and asked him what he was doing about it.
Mr. Johnson, Mr. Davis, and Mr. Richardson were detailed to other offices that same day.
The next day, Ms. Grosso announced that she was resigning.
The accusations of sexual harassment are bad enough, but the evidence I have seen indicates that Mr. Johnson, and possibly other senior leaders, were aware of these allegations for months and did nothing.
I cannot tell you why these allegations were ignored or when certain senior leaders became aware of them.
As you can see this was the first instance of a Senior Executive making inappropriate advances.
On the next two slides we show that the accused tried to use their position to act tough and scare victims into compliance.
At one point Mr. Davis promised to take action against one of his colleagues that was sexually harassing one our victims at the same time he was doing the same thing.
On this slide we show where Mr. Davis refers to a victim as “sexy.”
As I mentioned earlier, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the type of inappropriate, graphic, and disgusting texts that Mr. Davis sent to one of our brave whistleblowers.
We also have new allegations from another whistleblower that we only just received and are reviewing against Mr. Davis doing the same type of behavior with them.
We can see on the next few slides when their personal relationship soured, and the victim wanted to be friends, Mr. Davis treated our victim poorly.
She had told us that she feared for her job if she did not agree to his advances.
The evidence against Archie Davis could not be clearer.
The sexual harassment, aggressive behavior, and bullying contained within his text messages to the victim is undeniable.
V.A. has agreed to share the results of their internal investigation.
And at some vague, unspecified time in the future, they claim they will provide the rest of the information I have asked for repeatedly.
I have been waiting months for V.A. to answer the mail.
These whistleblowers waited even longer for V.A. to pay attention to these allegations.
Some of these sexual harassment allegations were reported to V.A. in July 2022.
V.A. did not act on anything until November 2023.
The safety and care of the veterans who use V.A. every day and the Department’s dedicated workforce depends on it.
V.A. officials did not answer the call when they were told about these allegations.
I am not going to abandon my investigation, and the whistleblowers, now that V.A. is telling me “we got this” when my investigation is what got V.A. to pay attention in the first place.
I want you all to look at how long V.A. ignored these allegations, according to our whistleblowers,
and remember V.A. took no action against any of these offenders until after I sent two letters and personally called the Secretary.
45 days after I was first made aware of these allegations.
Now that the accused have retired, resigned, or been shuffled around the V.A. bureaucracy, the Department would like this Committee to forget about its oversight responsibilities and cede them to the Executive branch.
I will not do that.
The Committee’s oversight is necessary to not only make sure this vile behavior stops,
But also to determine whether V.A. has the authority it needs to appropriately discipline these offenders and actually have a “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual harassment.
Hearing the whistleblowers describe the allegations, the negligence by senior leaders, and then V.A.’s refusal to cooperate with our investigation until it became publicly embarrassing for the Department makes me sick.
I urge my colleagues to authorize this subpoena for the sake of the V.A. whistleblowers who did the right thing despite the fear of retaliation,
And because V.A. has outstandingly and clearly failed to cooperate with this investigation or take these accusations seriously only until it became a P.R. problem.
With that, do any members wish to comment on the resolution?