The entire Senate is expected to vote for President Joe Biden nominated for the number-two spot of the Department of Veterans Affairs, shortly after a scathing review showed a VA record-keeping system he observed risks exposing sensitive personal information about veterans and agency employees.
Last month, the The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee advanced the nomination by Tanya Bradsher, current chief of staff to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, to become deputy secretary in a vote of 13-6. The Senate is back in session this week.
In his current role, Bradsher has authority over the VA Integrated Enterprise Workflow Solution Case and Correspondence Management, also known as the VIEWS CCM system, which a recent review conducted by the department’s Office of Information Technology determined had severe mistakes – but progress.
Peter C. Rizzo, a certified fraud examiner and former VA program manager, is one of three VA whistleblowers who have raised concerns about the system.
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“The president has chosen this individual to be responsible for maintaining this system,” Rizzo told Fox News Digital. “I really don’t want someone of his caliber in the number-two spot at the VA. The VA and our nation’s veterans deserve better.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., scheduled a cloture vote on Bradsher for 5:30 pm on Monday.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, released a statement on Thursday explaining his opposition to the nomination that he had previously blocked.
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“If confirmed, Ms. Bradsher will lead the VA’s effort to modernize veterans’ electronic health records,” Grassley said. “It involves the health care records of millions of veterans, which obviously contain a lot of sensitive information. Ms. Bradsher’s failures on privacy issues as chief of staff and her lack of on the transparency of the Veterans Affairs Committee shows that we cannot trust him. to secure this sensitive information or to lead and address the agency’s failures, of which the VA has many.”
In August 2022, the Office of Special Counsel — an independent agency that investigates whistleblower disclosures — asked the VA to investigate privacy concerns about the VIEWS system. The VA’s Office of Information Technology conducted the investigation and submitted the report in July of this year to the Office of Special Counsel. The report has not yet been made public, but the OSC is expected to issue the report at a later date. A VA spokeswoman did not comment on the record for this story.
The more than 2,000 VA employees with access to VIEWS have the option to mark documents as “sensitive” or “non-sensitive” for veterans and employees. According to congressional sources, the VA’s internal review estimated that the number of “non-sensitive” records containing personal information that should have been labeled “sensitive” was in the “multi-thousands.”
The department’s internal review said VA employees with access to VIEWS systems “may view, download, copy, screenshot, or share sensitive information — for example, whistleblower and veteran social security numbers, birth dates, home addresses and telephone numbers and medical. and financial information.”
An internal review determined that remediation measures in July 2023 “significantly reduced the accessibility of whistleblower identities and sensitive personal information.”
However, it also noted that “there is no auditing or detection program in place to measure the effectiveness of the changes applied, or to flag when a user is viewing whistleblower identities and sensitive personal information without authority or failing to protect such information by not placing the appropriate sensitivity mark on the case.”
Bradsher wrote to Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said in May: “The VIEWS system has controls in place to protect personal and sensitive information … access to system is logged. is also done to ensure that the VIEWS system information is accessed properly.”
This response clearly contradicts the report’s assertion that there is no audit system in place, Grassley said in a statement.
“The VA report further calls Ms. Bradsher’s candor into question. This appears to directly contradict Ms. Bradsher’s responses to questions for the record of her committee proceedings,” Grassley said. “Looks like Ms. Bradsher has something to explain.”
The review states: “Privacy issues with VIEWS CCM have been reported to VA officials responsible for VIEWS CCM by multiple individuals and offices since 2019.” However, in his written response to questions from Moran, Bradsher said he “first became aware of concerns about the VIEWS systems shortly after some VA employees approached the representative chief of staff in July 2022.”
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The VA’s internal report said “there was no effort to hold violators accountable.”
The review further stated that the department’s whistleblowers believed that “sharing this information resulted in mistreatment by managers and co-workers.” However, the review also stated that “there is no evidence that the VIEWS vulnerabilities discussed in this report resulted in a privacy violation or caused harm to veterans, whistleblowers, or their families.”
But Rizzo argued that the privacy breach from VIEWS facilitated the department’s attempt to silence whistleblowers. Last year, he announced the partner Kristen Ruell, a 15-year veteran of the VA, whose information appears in the VIEWS system. Ruell was a whistleblower in cases of double payments, exposed improper letter cutting and reported improper treatment of employees.
VIEWS shows his whistleblower communications to members of Congress, the VA Office of Inspector General and other VA officials. He also noted that his Social Security number, date of birth and other sensitive and personal information were published in VIEWS and marked as non-sensitive, so that other VA employees could access the information.
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“When I used to whistleblower, I always thought it was amazing that the people I reported knew that I had reported them within hours,” Ruell said. “One person actually contacted me and asked why I reported them. Now it all makes sense. The emails I sent are still in VIEWS and as of the date of the report are still viewable by any VIEWS user.”
Bradsher is a 20-year veteran of the Army and has served as a public affairs officer for the White House National Security Council, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.