The Government Accountability Office issued a follow-up report to its 2020 analysis of the Veterans Affairs Department’s procedures for collecting and handling data on sexual misconduct.
Problems with data collection and assessment continue to plague the Department of Veterans Affairs, specifically regarding information on sexual harassment incidents within the agency.
Detailed in a new Government Accountability Office oversight report, the VA was reportedly made aware of outstanding problems with its organizational structure surrounding sexual harassment reporting in 2020 following the GAO’s first report addressing the issue. The assessment of available data on incidents was listed as flawed, with GAO officials noting that the current VA reporting system did not require agency managers to document all complaints properly.
The report notes that while the VA revamped its sexual misconduct reporting system to be mandatory, the post-collection assessment of this data is still lacking.
“In our 2020 report, we made seven recommendations to improve VA’s organizational structure, policies, data collection and training,” the report reads. “Although VA has started to take steps to implement these recommendations, fully addressing them would better protect VA’s employees from sexual harassment.”
When GAO initially conducted its analysis of VA sexual harassment incidents, it determined the agency suffered from one of the highest incident rates across federal agencies. GAO issued seven recommendations from its 2020 evaluation, two of which GAO reported were completed.
Five remain incomplete, including ensuring the VA’s Equal Employment Opportunity director position is not solely responsible for overseeing personnel functions, conducting a review of sexual harassment policies within the department, and, critically, monitoring and assessing data to ensure its completeness and accuracy.
“[VA should] use sexual harassment complaint tracking system data, and other available information about sexual harassment prevalence at VA (e.g., survey data), to inform program improvements,” the recommendation stated.
GAO also recommended that the agency monitor whether that evidence of recorded assaults is entered into the VA’s existing tracking system.
While leaders at the VA did acknowledge changes were needed within its EEO program management structure, the report said that the agency “did not indicate” if the current EEO management roles would change in accordance with the GAO’s recommendations.
It also said that the VA did not clarify its future plans to analyze federal government survey data on sexual harassment, or specify other data sources or metrics to improve the accuracy of sexual harassment incidents in the agency.
“We maintain that analyzing additional data on prevalence of sexual harassment, whether from internal or external sources, could be helpful to VA in better understanding sexual harassment at the agency,” the report concluded.