WASHINGTON — Empower Oversight filed an amended complaint (and exhibits) against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after the agency failed to conduct adequate searches in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request subject to a lawsuit filed in May. The suit seeks to compel the agency to provide documents responsive to the VA’s failure to respond to requests from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) regarding oversight of the agency’s actions.
In its amended complaint, Empower Oversight notes, among other things, that the agency uses a system called the VA Integrated Enterprise Workflow Solution (VIEWS). This system primarily serves as VA’s tracking system for key correspondence. VA officials use it to communicate and share document attachments separately from the VA’s official email.
Empower Oversight’s FOIA request sought, among other things, “all records relating to … [the VA’s] receipt of, discussions related to, processing of, and response to Senator Grassley’s April 2, 2021 letter to Secretary McDonough and/or his July 20, 2021 letter to Secretary McDonough.”
VA’s responses to Empower Oversight’s FOIA request advised that VA had limited its search for responsive records to email accounts of 22 VA officials, the personnel files of one VA official, and select calendars of another. “By limiting its search of correspondence to select official email accounts, without looking in the VIEWS correspondence tracking system, the VA’s efforts to find responsive documents was obviously destined to fail,” said Empower Oversight Founder and President Jason Foster. “Everyone at the VA familiar with the VIEWS system would know instantly that it should be the first place to look for the records called for in our request.”
Within the VIEWS system, the VA has a tracking number for records related to Senator Grassley’s correspondence, and individual VA employees can attach documents, provide comments, and share related information. That tracking number was referenced in some of the emails that the VA produced, but the VA failed to search the VIEWS system itself.
Empower Oversight is seeking documents related to potential financial conflicts of interest involving the former Executive Director of the Education Service of the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). According to a VA Inspector General report issued after Empower Oversight sought documents, that official, Charmain Bogue, failed to recuse herself from VBA decisions advocated by entities paying her husband, Barrett Bogue.
In April 2021 Senator Grassley wrote the VA asking about Ms. Bogue’s involvement in announcing an enforcement action advocated for by the Veterans Education Success, which was paying her husband at the time.
If you have first-hand information you’d like to disclose to assist Empower Oversight with these inquiries, please contact us confidentially here.