by James C. Sherlock

State Inspector General Mike Westfall

I decided last week in a paroxysm of good citizenship to contact the Virginia Inspector General (IG) to report wrongdoing by state officials.

I have a considerable list centered around the failure of many state officials to carry out their longstanding, formally-assigned duties pre-COVID to plan for a pandemic emergency and exercise those plans to mitigate the effects of such an occurrence.  

My complaints are based on Virginia Executive Order No. 42  Promulgation of the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan and Delegation of Authority. It was issued by Governor McDonnell and reissued by Governor Northam.

An actionable component of that Order is Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical) was published in August of 2012 (the Annex).  It contained prescient predictions about the course of a pandemic and directed specific agencies to prepare and exercise specific plans. Despite the clear language of the Annex, the plans were not written, personnel were not trained, exercises could not be conducted and systems were not tested under simulated stresses of a pandemic.

Those failures cost unnecessarily severe losses of life, suffering and economic distress among the citizens.  

There were also significant financial losses to the state and federal governments the level of which need to be explored by an outside auditor. The Annex projected major layoffs in a pandemic. VEC did not prepare, resulting in massive financial losses in COVID to both fraud — $40 million in fraudulent payments estimated by the VEC itself — and to overpayments (amount undefined) within Virginia’s unemployment insurance program. The unemployment system still is not working properly a year later.  

Unemployment claims processing is another one of those Virginia programs like COVID testing and vaccinations that ranked last-in-the-nation out of the gate during COVID.

There was, as we reported here, an apparent attempt to coverup the widespread misfeasance by hiding evidence.  The Virginia Department of Emergency Management pulled the Annex from its website immediately after I wrote here on March 31, 2020 of its existence.  

Unnecessary death, suffering, economic distress, massive losses of state and federal funds and an apparent coverup attempt. Call me a stickler for process, but these seem like issues worthy of investigation. Big picture, they seem more important than whatever did or did not happen with the parole board. The goal is to try to make sure they don’t happen again.

My timing could have been better.  

The IG nearly simultaneously got embroiled with a three-way controversy among himself, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, and the Attorney General about alleged wrongdoing in the parole board and who knew or reported what and when. Then it turned into a four-way controversy when the IG’s lead investigator filed for whistleblower status.  

The IG has said he believes his job may be in jeopardy. He has not yet been corrected in that presumption by the Governor, at least publicly.

Nonetheless, I have proceeded.  

Knowing exactly how to couch such reports to meet the bureaucratic requirements required a little detective work.

Virginia’s Fraud and Abuse Whistle Blower Protection Act § 2.2-3009. Policy.

“It shall be the policy of the Commonwealth that citizens of the Commonwealth and employees of governmental agencies be freely able to report instances of wrongdoing or abuse committed by governmental agencies or independent contractors of governmental agencies.”

Seems straightforward enough.  

Then I had to find out find out what “wrongdoing” means to the government of Virginia. The definition of that term is found in the Virginia Administrative Code

“Wrongdoing” means a violation, which is not of a merely technical or minimal nature, of a federal or state law or regulation or a formally adopted code of conduct or ethics of a professional organization designed to protect the interests of the public or an employee.

“Wrongdoing” includes (i) any violation of any law, rule, or regulation; (ii) gross mismanagement; (iii) a gross waste of funds; (iv) an abuse of authority; or (v) a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

Abuse is defined in this context as “an employer’s or employee’s conduct or omissions that result in substantial misuse, destruction, waste, or loss of funds or resources belonging to or derived from federal, state, or local government sources.”  The “or omissions” part comes into play here.

I have knowledge of some of the types of wrongdoing described — gross mismanagement, waste of funds, abuse of authority and a demonstrated substantial and specific danger to public health. So I have begun to file detailed complaints through the OSIG hotline email connection.  

They deserve to be investigated, accountability assigned and the issues corrected. I hope those things happen.  

The person I have been dealing with at the Office of the State Investigator General (OSIG) has been patient and helpful. Her job is to screen complaints and she appears to be good at it. 

But the IG must decide whether to open investigations. I asked his press officer yesterday whether the office is hamstrung by the turmoil surrounding the parole board affair. The official answer:  “No comment.”

 So, I am a citizen whistleblower. I think. 

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17 responses to “Confessions of a Virginia Whistleblower”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    paroxysm? or apoplectic fit?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Nancy, I really don’t think you want to defend the nation’s worst bureaucracy. Whatever else you know, you know that Virginia was rock bottom in COVID testing, vaccine distribution and unemployment claims payment. Pretty much the holy trinity of government response. You can’t defend that. So let me try to settle with them. I’ll let you know how it goes.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        We were far longer near the top of the rankings for vaccine distribution then we were near the bottom. Becker’s currently puts us at number 10. I suspect on the whole we were well above the average. You should give credit where credit is due and it is due for vaccine distribution.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          You clearly don’t understand the purpose of this blog… or being old, white, and/or male.

          1. So, what exactly IS the purpose of being old, white and male? I’m trying to get ready because it’s coming my way soon.

            I’ve been practicing sitting in a rocking chair on my front porch and shouting “Get off my lawn” at passing youngsters , but here HAS to be more to it than that, doesn’t there?

            And besides, my house doesn’t have a “lawn”, per se, it’s in the woods. And it’s far enough off the road that we don’t get many [human] youngsters passing by. You’ve already been through the transition, N_N, what do you recommend?

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            That’s the first step. Now, by the time you reach 70, apply it to everything. Next step, admonish someone for letting a kid drive their Barbie’s Dream Car without a license.

        2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          You clearly have no idea of the breadth and depth of bureaucratic incompetence and dereliction of duty it takes for a single state, Virginia, to appear at the bottom of the rankings in all three of tests and vaccine administration and unemployment claims administration in the same year. That represents a five or six sigma variation from the mean in the wrong direction. That level of failure cannot be random. It has to be systemic. And you don’t want it investigated and fixed? Perhaps a trophy instead?

          1. I think it’s called Weapons-Grade Failure (WGF)…

  2. vicnicholls Avatar

    Praying for you. That includes the IG.

  3. Brilliant! See if you qualify for a reward from the whistle blower fund. Here’s the trick: the IG has to identify $5,000 or more in recoverable funds. If you’re really clever, you can figure out how to make a few bucks out of this.

  4. Mr. Sherlock,

    “Unemployment claims processing is another one of those Virginia programs like COVID testing and vaccinations that ranked last-in-the-nation out of the gate during COVID.”

    Speaking of unemployment claims, if you’ve still got your investigator’s hat on you might want to try to find out which state agency recently had a data breach which resulted in the release of personal information about past and present public-sector employees, and the subsequent filing of false unemployment claims in the names of those persons.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Wayne, I sincerely hope you will file that complaint yourself. It is important that the citizens with that sort of information report it to the IG using .

      All of the information on program guidelines is in my column. If you prefer not to do so, let me know and I’ll do it.

      1. I think I will. Thank you for the link. I’ve not been satisfied with the explanations I have received so far.

  5. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Mr. Sherlock, I read the documents you sent to me not long ago regarding the supposedly implemented emergency regulation. My thoughts, we have fire drills for practice for a reason. The Commonwealth employs many risk managers. The person we had at the Department of Education was actually very good. His job included ensuring readiness for disasters. I actually liked thinking through the problems. Many didn’t take him seriously, they complained his office wasn’t a cubby (like their office and they had doctorates)and was on the 25th floor with a real cherrywood desk in the sups office. He did a decent job. I thought of his role as I read through the documents. I hope that your inquiry brings some awareness of the importance of risk assessors. They play a critical role, but we have to make sure they can do their job. Maybe now that we have had a pandemic, staff will pay more attention to their role. Come to think of it, he was hired during the McDonnell administration.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Thanks very much. I hope that the Virginia IG will broadly investigate what happened across the Virginia government that prevented readiness for the COVID event that had been so clearly and accurately predicted in the state emergency operations plan. The best thing concerned civil servants can do is file formal complaints with the OSIG to let him know that it is not just outsiders who are dismayed about what happened. Go to the link I sent Wayne S. above.

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