First Female VA Deputy Secretary, a Retired Army Officer, Is Confirmed by Senate

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Tanya Bradsher at the Women in Military Service Wreath Laying Ceremony
VA Chief of Staff Tanya Bradsher delivers remarks at the 24th Annual Women in Military Service Wreath Laying Ceremony, held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (VA photo by Robert Turtil)

The next No. 2 official at the Department of Veterans Affairs has been approved by the Senate, making her the first woman to permanently hold the job of VA deputy secretary.

The Senate confirmed Tanya Bradsher in a 50-46 vote Tuesday. Republicans largely opposed Bradsher over allegations she did not adequately respond to concerns from whistleblowers and lawmakers that an IT system under her purview in her current job was exposing veterans' personal information.

Bradsher has served as chief of staff at the VA since 2021. A Bronze Star recipient who served in Iraq from 2008 to 2009, she has built up a lengthy resume in government since retiring from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 2013.

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Bradsher has worked at the National Security Council; the office of Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.; the Defense Health Agency; and the White House Office of Public Engagement, among other government roles.

"She has an impressive record of serving our country in and out of uniform, especially in her current role, which is VA chief of staff, where she has been critical in overseeing the department's implementation of the PACT Act," Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said on the Senate floor Monday. "It is clear that she is qualified for the job and ready to hit the ground running to serve our nation's veterans."

As deputy VA secretary, one of Bradsher's biggest responsibilities will be overseeing the department's overhaul of its electronic health record program. The troubled $16 billion modernization project has faced numerous delays that have increasingly drawn the ire of lawmakers in both parties.

Bradsher breezed through her confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in May, during which she vowed to make outreach to female veterans a priority. The committee advanced her in a 13-6 vote in July.

But after the committee vote, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced he was placing a hold on her over concerns about her role overseeing an internal messaging system at the VA known as the Veterans Affairs Integrated Enterprise Workflow Solution, or VIEWS. A hold does not prevent a nominee from being confirmed, but requires the Senate to undertake a more time-consuming process to approve the nominee.

Last year, a whistleblower alleged the VA was failing to protect personal information, including Social Security numbers and medical records, of whistleblowers, veterans and employees because the information was available to anyone with access to VIEWS.

An internal VA investigation, conducted at the direction of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and completed last month, confirmed that "multi-thousands" of files containing personal information were accessible to all 2,010 employees with access to VIEWS, according to a draft copy of the investigation obtained by Military.com.

The investigation attributed the issue to users not marking those files as "sensitive," which restricts access to the information, as they were supposed to. VA officials have been aware of the issue since at least 2019 and undertook some steps to improve security in VIEWS in the intervening years, but the investigation found those "actions had or would have limited effectiveness."

But in July, the VIEWS IT manager established a three-step "corrective action plan" that investigators said appears to be "largely effective" in securing personal information.

"Although they have undertaken substantial efforts and made considerable strides in improving the protection of sensitive information in VIEWS, VA officials still need to take additional measures to protect the confidentiality of whistleblower identities, their submissions and PII [personal identifiable information] in VIEWS CCM, as well as the confidentiality of veterans' PII in VIEWS," the investigation said.

Still, the investigation stressed that there is "no evidence that VIEWS vulnerabilities discussed in this report resulted in a privacy breach, or has caused harm to veterans, whistleblowers or their families."

The investigation does not mention Bradsher, but Republicans maintained she bore ultimate responsibility for failing to secure the personal information since the whistleblower complaint was filed to her office and that she dodged lawmakers' questions about the issue.

"Ms. Bradsher's failures on privacy issues as chief of staff and her lack of transparency to the Veterans Affairs Committee show that we can't trust her to secure this sensitive information or to take the lead and address agency failures, of which VA has many," Grassley said in a statement last week. "Ms. Bradsher has failed to accept responsibility for her demonstrated failure to secure veterans' private data and attempted to deflect her responsibility by pointing to the [Office of Special Counsel]-ordered investigation."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on X @reporterkheel.

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