WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight and Whistleblowers of America wrote to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough and VA Inspector General Michael Missal as well as nonprofit Veterans Education Success (VES), its board, and key donors seeking action to address findings outlined in the Inspector General’s report entitled, Former Education Service Executive Violated Ethics Rules and Her Duty to Cooperate Fully with the OIG. The letters came in advance of today’s testimony by co-signer and Whistleblowers of America President Jacqueline Garrick at a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on possible reforms to whistleblower protections at the VA..
According to the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), three key witnesses in its review of whistleblower reports of conflicts of interest at the VA refused to answer all its questions. The senior VA official at the center of the probe, Charmain Bogue, resigned from the agency before the OIG’s work was complete, which shielded her from further questioning since the OIG could not compel testimony from former employees at the time. Ms. Bogue’s husband, VES senior communications advisor Barrett Bogue, and VES President Carrie Wofford also refused to testify in the inquiry, according to the OIG.
In their letter to the VA and VA-OIG, Empower Oversight and Whistleblowers of America suggested steps that the VA and the OIG could take “to encourage accountability and enhance future cooperation with inspector general investigations,” including (1) reviewing the VA’s contracts and agreements to ensure no one can benefit from any such agreement following a finding of an ethical violation or refusal to cooperate with the OIG’s oversight work, and (2) considering using the VA-OIG’s new authorities to compel testimony recently granted by Congress to re-examine the questions it could not answer in its initial report.
In their letter to the VES Board of Directors and key donors, Empower Oversight and Whistleblowers of America recognized “that the purpose of your support of VES’s mission is to help veterans, service members, and military families meet their educational goals,” but also asked that as “directors responsible for overseeing VES and financial supporters of its mission” they take steps to ensure VES “fully cooperates with the OIG’s nonpartisan, independent oversight efforts” and “refrains from participating in contracting relationships, grants, and agency agreements in ways that create the appearance of conflicts of interest like those outlined in the OIG report.”
When the OIG report was initially released, Empower Oversight President & Founder Jason Foster issued a statement criticizing the slow pace of accountability for these issues.
In September 2021, Empower Oversight issued a 19-page research paper entitled, “Did the Department of Veterans Affairs Enable Insider Trading?” exploring allegations about the leaking of non-public information about a market-moving enforcement announcement involving GI Bill benefits.
In November 2021, Empower Oversight released a copy of the VA’s draft reply, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to Senator Chuck Grassley’s April 2021 letter asking about these issues. The FOIA copy showed that the agency had gathered the answers to the Senator’s questions, but it withheld those answers from the Senate, never transmitted the letter, and redacted those answers on the copy provided through FOIA.
Empower Oversight has appealed the VA’s redactions of those answers and other information that do not appear to be exempt from disclosure under FOIA. Those appeals are still pending, and Empower Oversight has since sued the VA in federal court seeking to have the redactions lifted and require the Department to comply with its FOIA obligations.
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