House Veterans’ Affairs Committee members voted Thursday to subpoena thousands of documents related to sexual harassment accusations against senior Department of Veterans Affairs officials, saying the leaders have been negligent in their response to the problem.
The move — the first such action by the committee in eight years — received bipartisan support whlle drawing concerns from some Democratic members that the issue is being used to score political points in an election year.
Republican leaders say the move is needed to ensure that whistleblowers continue to have faith in department operations.
“VA officials did not answer the call when they were told about these allegations,” said committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill. “Now that the accused have retired, resigned, or been shuffled around the VA bureaucracy, the department would like this committee to forget about its oversight responsibilities and cede them to the executive branch.”
Bost first raised questions about the accusations against senior officials in the Office for Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion last November, following complaints to the committee from several women who said they were harassed and intimidated by Archie Davis, chief of staff at ORMDI.
Some of the accusations date back to summer 2022. The women said that they reported the incidents but were mostly ignored by VA leadership, forcing them to contact Congress for response.
Since then, the committee has sent seven requests for information on the accusations and lack of subsequent investigation. Two officials involved — Harvey Johnson, deputy assistant secretary for ORMDI, and Gina Grosso, assistant secretary for human resources — have left the department since last November.
Davis has been reassigned during an internal investigation, according to committee staff.
VA officials said they have provided all of the information possible without compromising the investigation into the allegations.
On Thursday, committee ranking member Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the subpoena “may poison the process” of that investigation by focusing on “salacious, titillating and attention grabbing” details rather than rooting out the problems.
“If the VA investigation does find there were employees being harassed, VA should hold these employees accountable and take all appropriate action against them, and make the victims whole,” said committee ranking member Mark Takano, D-Calif. “But the majority is recklessly endangering the lives and livelihood of the accused and victims alike by making judgements without having all of the facts.”
Most Democrats on the committee said the allegations and the accusations of slow response from VA officials more than warranted congressional intervention.
Committee staff are expected to formally deliver the subpoena to VA staff this week.
In a statement, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said the department “does not tolerate sexual harassment. We are treating these allegations with the utmost seriousness, have moved to aggressively investigate them, and will take swift and appropriate action.”
He said the department has already delivered nearly 1,200 pages of documents to the committee pertaining to the allegations, including 27 transcribed interviews from VA’s internal investigations. More is expected to be delivered to the committee by the end of the month.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.