Transmitted: December 16, 2021
To: Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs
RE: Freedom of Information Act Appeal FOIA Request Number 21-00357
Empower Oversight filed an appeal challenging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General’s (VA-OIG) search for records responsive to a prior Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and its determination that parts of the records that are responsive to the FOIA request are exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemptions b(5) and b(6).
Back in August, Empower Oversight filed a detailed FOIA request to examine why the VA was ignoring requests from Congress related to the appearance of conflicts of interest by VA staff administering veterans’ educational benefits. Based on whistleblower reports to Empower Oversight and Capitol Hill, an official at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), Charmain Bogue, allegedly failed to recuse herself from VBA decisions advocated by entities paying her husband, Barrett Bogue.
After Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to the VA demanding answers, the agency failed to comply with the oversight requests. Empower Oversight then filed its FOIA request to try to determine what the VA had done to reply to the Senator. The VA-OIG announced it was investigating the matter and provided only a limited set of records from a three-day period in response to the FOIA request.
Empower Oversight requests that the VA-OIG review its FOIA officer’s search to ensure it was reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant records, and her redactions to certify that she did not withhold factual, non-exempt information.
If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.