Bedford, MA — The VA in Bedford, the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, was in need of some snow removal and some routine landscaping duties. Heather Garneau-Harvey worked at the VA, alongside her father, Dennis Garneau, and the two of them outsourced the work — to Mr. Garneau’s son’s contracting company. He charged $200,000 for the snow removal and $750,000 for all of the landscaping materials and labor. They were caught when someone else at the VA realized that none of the materials were actually arriving — it seems that the two were hoping everyone there would just forget that they spent that kind of money on landscaping.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, launched an investigation. At first, the perpetrators claimed to not know that the company was owned by the brother — a fact which was soon contradicted by their own emails.
Heather Garneau-Harvey received a demotion down a single pay-grade, but she was allowed to keep her job at the VA; she went from a GS-12 to a GS-11. She has been reassigned to another part of the same VA hospital. Her father, Dennis Garneau, resigned. Not only were they caught red-handed in the act of nepotism with VA money, but they were not forthright nor were they compliant during the investigation — and their consequences seem fairly light.
The whistleblower is a tool and parts attendant at the VA hospital, and his name is Kevin Cornellier. According to the OSC, he “…persisted for years in the face of rejection of his disclosures by local authorities before he came to OSC.”
On Thursday, the OSC contacted President Trump and is urging the VA to fire Heather Garneau-Harvey. Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote and told the president that, “By allowing an employee who engaged in this conduct to remain with the agency, the VA demonstrates a shocking degree of indifference to government ethical standards, procurement regulations, and public integrity.”
The Trump administration’s VA Accountability Act has promised to keep employees more accountable for the negligence and failures that the VA has become famous for. According to the White House, this initiative has resulted in the firing of 1,470 VA employees, 443 suspensions and 83 demotions since the end of 2017. Essentially, the bill makes it so a mountain of evidence isn’t necessary to fire an employee of the VA. However, this is still a new program and may have yet to really sink its teeth in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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