The historic nomination of the Department of Veterans Affairs deputy secretary could be held up over whistleblower protection complaints by the same senator who stalled another top nominee.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is expressing concerns that nominee VA Chief of Staff Tanya Bradsher is in part responsible for failing to safeguard whistleblowers’ identities from their bosses — a long-promised reform to the VA’s internal messaging system. If Grassley doesn’t get a satisfying answer, he could halt the promotion of the first woman of color ever to hold the second-highest leadership post in VA.

“VA and Ms. Bradsher must immediately explain their failure to protect this information for so long, even after being notified of these potential violations of federal data privacy laws,” Grassley wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough last Friday, just one day after Bradsher appeared before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for her confirmation hearing. “VA must also explain its delays in investigating the matter, while this sensitive information apparently remains available to those who should not have access to it.”

At issue is VA’s Integrated Enterprise Workflow Solution (VIEWS) system, used by department officials to track all correspondence. Last year, an Office of Special Counsel report found that information on that system is not adequately secured, which could lead to whistleblowers’ confidential communications with senior staff and lawmakers being uncovered by senior staffers who wish to retaliate against them.

Administration officials ordered fixes to be made by early fall 2022, but Grassley’s office noted that “more than ten months later, that investigation remains incomplete.” Grassley wants explanations for that delay by June 16, as well as how officials will better protect that personal information, and what Bradsher’s role has been in pushing for improvements.

VA officials did not respond to requests for comment on Grassley’s demands.

Grassley has not yet threatened to hold up Bradsher’s nomination, which still has to be voted on by the full Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. But he held up the nomination of VA Under Secretary of Benefits Joshua Jacobs for two months earlier this year over similar whistleblower protection complaints. Jacobs was eventually confirmed after chamber leaders used procedural rules to get around the block and force a full chamber vote.

Grassley’s challenge is the first significant roadblock in Bradsher’s nomination process. Last week before the veterans committee, she faced largely non-confrontational questions from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and earned bipartisan praise for her responses.

Bradsher, 53, is an Army veteran who has served in the VA Chief of Staff role since March 2021, working as the most senior advisor to McDonough. She has held multiple leadership roles in the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and White House over the last decade.

If confirmed, she’ll be the first woman to hold the role full time; three others have served as acting deputies. Bradsher, who is Black, would also be the first woman of color to ever hold the post.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said last week he hopes to move Bradsher’s nomination through the Senate “as quickly as we possibly can.”

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.

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