A watchdog report prompted by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, identifies a conflict of interest in the Department of Veterans Affairs office that runs the GI Bill program.
The VA inspector general’s report faults Charmain Bogue, who resigned as executive director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Education Service amid the investigation, for working with her husband’s employer and for refusing to cooperate and answer questions during the probe.
The VBA Education Service administers provisions of the GI Bill, which pays for veterans’ education after wartime.
The inspector general’s report, issued March 24, concludes that Bogue created the appearance of a conflict of interest by not disclosing the business with her husband’s employer, Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit that assists veterans.
An inspector general, unlike a federal prosecutor, can’t compel cooperation and has access only to records inside the agency for which he or she is responsible.
Bogue’s husband also declined to speak to investigators, according to the report, nor did executives with her husband’s employer.
After a whistleblower brought the matter to Grassley’s attention. the Iowa senator sought information from the VA in April 2021 about whistleblower complaints.
‘An Open Secret’
When the VA didn’t respond to Grassley’s requests, a group called Empower Oversight filed a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Through that law, Empower Oversight obtained documents showing the agency had prepared answers to Grassley’s questions but opted not to send them to the Iowa Republican.
Michael J. Missal is inspector general for the VA. James Mitchell, acting assistant inspector general, wrote the report on Bogue.
The VA’s inspector general limited the scope of the inquiry, Empower Oversight President Jason Foster said:
These conflicts were an open secret in the VA for years. Supervisors knew. The VA-OIG [Office of the Inspector General] knew. But, the whistleblowers were ignored until Sen. Chuck Grassley started asking questions. Veterans deserve better than bureaucrats who abuse public service to feather their own nests. … Where is the accountability for the supervisors who tolerated the blatant conflicts outlined in this report for years?
The watchdog group National Legal Policy Center raised the issue in 2020.
Asked for comment by Daily Signal, a VA spokesman said the agency didn’t see a bigger problem than a single official–Bogue.
“VA notes the IG made no recommendations for VA action and the referenced individual is no longer a VA employee,” spokesman Randal Noller said in an email. “We also see no systemic issues here requiring further action.”
‘Sit This One Out’
Grassley’s letter to McDonough, the VA secretary, initially asked for information about Bogue’s supervisor, acting Undersecretary of Benefits Thomas Murphy, among other specifics.
On April 6, 2021, Murphy wrote a memo to McDonough in a somewhat dismissive tone about Grassley’s inquiry. Empower Oversight obtained the memo through the Freedom of Information Act.
Although it’s not clear whether a whistleblower was retaliated against, Murphy takes credit in the memo for firing a troublesome employee whom he seems to blame for being Grassley’s source.
“The allegations Senator Grassley mentions here are part of a long list of allegations levied by a fired former employee that claimed to be a whistleblower,” Murphy wrote to McDonough. “I terminated her for multiple violations of VA policies. All well documented in HR files.”
McDonough responded to Murphy two days later.
“As our team works to gather information responsive to the senator’s request, I need you to sit this one out,” the VA secretary wrote in an email.
McDonough added: “Don’t discuss this matter with your subordinates, and if anyone on your team contacts you about this simply ask them to fully comply with any information requests [from the designee handling the matter].”
However, the VA didn’t respond to Grassley until the inspector general’s report came out late last month.
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