Senate Wades Into Dispute at Department of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Senate last week voted unanimously – 96-0 – to tell the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that it does not have a right to block the VA Inspector General’s efforts to investigate “records related to VA’s new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, which the department has refused to provide,” according to Government Executive.

The public spat comes after a now-public “exchange of letters in which Peter O’Rourke, the department’s acting secretary, and Michael Missal, its inspector general, traded criticisms,” including a letter from Missal, sent to O’Rourke, suggesting that the information has been requested repeatedly over the course of six months, claiming that “VA’s failure to comply was unlawful under the 1978 Inspector General Act and the 2016 Inspector General Empowerment Act, which provide IGs with access to all agency records and documents.”

O’Rourke responded to the letter by “criticizing the IG’s office for asking for an overly broad set of documents that amounted to rolling access to all cases fielded by the whistleblower office, which was launched in 2017.”

O’Rourke in his letter says “OAWP…has found no specific requests for information from OIG that have been denied,” calling the data request broad and saying that it “appears to seek unrestricted and continuous access to OAWP case intake and triage is neither ‘practicable’ nor appropriate.” In the letter, O’Rourke goes on to slam the IG for “not performing its responsibilities in a fair and objective manner,” thus causing “significant harm to the reputation and performance of VA and its employees,” concluding that Missal appears to “misunderstand the independent nature” of his role and to “operate as a completely unfettered autonomous agency,” but that “OIG is loosely tethered to VA and in your specific case as the VA Inspector General, I am your immediate supervisor. You are directed to act accordingly.”

The Senate disagreed, as did the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which said that “while by law, IGs are under the general supervision of the agency head or deputy, neither the agency head nor the deputy can prevent or prohibit an IG from conducting an audit or investigation.”

Posted in From the Hill

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