Tester, Schatz Demand VA Secretary Halt Questionable Political Actions During Presidential Transition Process

Senators: “Cease any further efforts to rush policies or hiring decisions, during your final weeks as Secretary, which merit more scrutiny and should be left to the incoming Administration”

U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ranking Members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs, are demanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) halt questionable political actions during the presidential transition process.

“We are writing to request information regarding your plans for an organized transition to the Biden-Harris Administration and to direct you to cease any further efforts to rush policies or hiring decisions, during your final weeks as Secretary, which merit more scrutiny and should be left to the incoming Administration,” wrote Senators Tester and Schatz to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “…We are deeply troubled by previously announced and ongoing efforts to rush potentially harmful policies through the Department in the last days of the Trump Administration while at the same time attempting to embed politically connected individuals into career positions within VA.”

In their letter, Tester and Schatz noted serious concerns with the Trump Administration’s recent attempt to accelerate the hiring of political appointees and the conversion of political appointees to career positions prior to the Biden-Harris Administration taking office. They highlighted VA’s recent announcement to convert a senior political appointee into a career position as second in command of the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). OAWP, which has had its own significant challenges since its initial days under the Trump Administration, is responsible for conducting investigations into allegations of senior leader misconduct and allegations of whistleblower retaliation by VA supervisors.

They continued, “We are also concerned by what appear to be accelerated efforts by the Executive Branch, including your Department, to hire and “burrow-in” political appointees as career employees and otherwise undermine the federal merit system. Not only is this illegal, but it involves expending taxpayer dollars on the salaries of individuals whose foremost qualifications appear that they were loyal to President Trump. That is not a standard that serves veterans or the American people.”

The Senators also outlined significant concerns and requested information regarding several policy changes implemented by the VA during the COVID-19 pandemic—including the Department’s move to eliminate a rule that previously allowed veterans’ representatives 48-hours to review a benefits decision before it was finalized.

The General Services Administration’s (GSA) initial denial of the outcome of the 2020 election—and harmful withholding of transition resources from the Biden-Harris transition team—unduly delayed efforts to ensure veterans saw no disruption in their care, benefits or services during the transition of Administrations. Following a push from Tester, GSA finally agreed to a formal presidential transition process on November 23. Earlier this year, Tester also led a letter to VA raising serious concerns over the increasing politicization of the VA, including the potential misuse of taxpayer funds and other government assets in an effort to benefit the reelection of President Trump and certain Republican candidates seeking office in 2020.

Full text of the Senators’ letter is available HERE.