Transmitted: August 6, 2021
To: Department of Veterans Affairs
Re: Conflicts of interest and resistance to Congressional oversight at the Veterans Benefits Administration
Full Request (PDF): VA Veterans Benefits Administration FOIA
Following refusal by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to timely comply with congressional oversight requests, Empower Oversight has submitted a detailed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to examine why the VA is ignoring requests from Congress related to the appearance of conflicts of interest by VA staff administering veterans’ educational benefits.
According to whistleblower reports received by Empower Oversight, as well as witness statements and documents provided to Congress, 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.
Four months ago, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote the VA asking about Ms. Bogue’s participation in the announcement of an enforcement action advocated by Veterans Education Success (VES), an advocacy organization paying her husband at the time. The enforcement action would have cut off GI Bill benefits to veterans attending certain schools, some of which were operated by publicly traded companies. Market sensitive details about the planned enforcement action were reportedly released during the trading day to VES, among other select recipients prior to the official announcement for the general public and regular investors. The Grassley letter also raised questions about VBA senior executives responsible for ensuring that VBA officials recuse from matters that would benefit a spouse, but according to whistleblower disclosures, multiple senior executives had a history of allegations of improperly accepting gifts from entities doing business with the VA. According to a letter from the VA Inspector General, it has opened an “administrative investigation” to evaluate allegations regarding Ms. Bogue.
The VA’s refusal to respond to the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee raises questions about the current adherence to a policy advocated by then-Chairman Grassley and adopted during the previous administration to prevent stonewalling of congressional oversight requests from the members of the minority party in Congress. The policy requires that each agency “respect the rights of all individual Members [of Congress], regardless of party affiliation, to request information” and “use its best efforts to be as timely and responsive as possible in answering such requests.”
The public has a compelling interest in understanding why the VA is refusing to comply with oversight requests from certain elected representatives and should produce all documents related its efforts, or lack of effort, to respond to these particular questions.
If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.