Federal Employment:

Inquiry Into Sexual Harassment Issues at Selected VA Medical Centers

GGD-93-119: Published: Jun 30, 1993. Publicly Released: Jul 6, 1993.

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Nancy R. Kingsbury
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed sexual harassment at the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) medical centers, focusing on: (1) closed complaints of sexual harassment at VA; (2) the number of formal sexual harassment complaints in process; (3) the prevalence of sexual harassment at VA medical centers; and (4) VA medical centers' handling of sexual harassment complaints.

GAO found that: (1) VA processed and closed 85 formal sexual harassment complaints from fiscal year (FY) 1989 through FY 1992; (2) there were 42 formal equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaints involving sexual harassment in FY 1992; (3) 49 percent of VA female employees and 21 percent of VA male employees perceived some form of sexual harassment during 1987; (4) of the 12 VA medical centers reviewed, 3 centers had a greater potential for sexual harassment to occur, 6 centers had problems with management's handling of complaints, and 3 centers resolved sexual harassment issues promptly; (5) the medical centers' use of equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint processing alternatives could lead to underreporting and infringements of employee rights; (6) employees at most centers expressed fear of reprisals for sexual harassment complaints; (7) the medical centers' EEO programs had a variety of problems, although their EEO counselors were generally knowledgeable; (8) medical center directors were concerned about logistical problems in providing mandatory sexual harassment training for their staff; and (9) senior VA officials have taken action to correct sexual harassment problems by mandating training, recentralizing complaint processing, establishing oversight of the sexual harassment complaint process by VA officials outside of the centers, establishing a telephone hotline for information and advice on filing complaints, and establishing a task force to address sexual harassment and other gender-related issues.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: It is too soon for the agency to have responded yet. VA sent questionnaires to medical centers for self-assessment as to how they met GAO recommendations. Those responses were analyzed by VA EEO Office pursuant to VA Circular 00-93-10. Actions needed or undertaken to meet GAO recommendations have been identified. On August 1, 1994, VA Circular 00-94-2 was issued. It: (1) sets timeliness standards for processing EEO complaints and incorporates them into performance standards for officers who serve as EEO officers; (2) sets standards for appointing and training collateral duty EEO officers; (3) requires EEO program managers involved in complaint processing to be moved out of local human resource offices; and (4) classified procedures related to the use of administrative review boards, offering more knowledge and protection to the VA employee.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should assess the adequacy of the actions taken by VA medical centers to address GAO suggestions for improvement and implement corrective action to address any shortcomings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA has made contact with MSPB and contractors to determine what questions would be most appropriate for the survey. The Secretary wants a 100 percent survey, which will cost about $1 million. As of August 1, 1994, VA had not resolved where the money to pay for this survey would come from. Neither the Veterans Benefit Administration nor the Veterans Health Administration wants to fund the survey and the issue has not yet been pushed to the Secretary for resolution. The survey itself would probably present about a dozen questions, which will be finanlly agreed to by questionnaire experts. The questionnaire has not been finally approved. Results will not be forthcoming until 1996.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should approve implementation of the agencywide survey of sexual harassment issues currently under consideration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs


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