The revelation that nearly 80 percent of workers surveyed at Veterans Affairs believe there is widespread racism throughout the federal agency has prompted an investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office into the reports of discrimination. The GAO is a non-partisan congressional watchdog body charged with auditing federal institutions.
Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Maas.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hi.) requested that the GAO conduct an investigation into reports of racism at the VA after a survey released this summer by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 270,000 VA workers, unearthed numerous disturbing incidents of racism in centers across the country.
Black employees spoke of hearing their managers use the N-word on conference calls, being asked to serve as “living displays” for Juneteenth celebrations, and being largely shut out of senior leadership roles or promotion opportunities at the VA when compared to white workers.
Despite the many problematic experiences shared by workers in the survey, the VA only said at the time that it “does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form.”
On Friday, the AFGE celebrated GAO’s decision to probe the survey’s findings in a release sent to The Root:
“AFGE is pleased to hear that, unlike the VA, GAO is investigating our members’ serious claims of systemic racism within the department,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “For far too long, VA leadership has turned a blind eye to employee claims of racism, disparaged their credibility in the media, and refused to meet with the union to discuss this serious issue. These problems have been exacerbated under the Trump administration and will only get worse with actions like President Trump’s executive order banning diversity training at federal agencies.”
“For nearly four years, the Trump administration and VA leadership have attempted to silence worker voices through intimidation, retaliation, and the stripping away of their collective bargaining rights in the workplace, which is a safeguard against illegal racism,” Kelley added.
The GAO says it will launch an investigation to “determine the extent to which systemic racism impacts the VA” in six months.