Duckworth Demands Transparency from VA Inspector General

Independent federal investigator suggests VA Watchdog focused more on discrediting whistleblowers rather than protecting Veterans and providing care

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-08), a combat Veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, is calling for transparency from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) today after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the independent federal agency tasked with protecting federal whistleblowers, issued a report suggesting that a VA OIG investigation into whistleblower complaints focused more on discrediting the whistleblowers than addressing the problems with medical care at VA facilities that led to the complaints. The new report also indicated that the VA OIG withheld critical information from OSC investigators.

“It is highly troubling the OSC found VA OIG investigations appeared to focus on discrediting whistleblowers at Edward Hines, Jr., VA Hospital,”wrote the Congresswoman in a letter to the VA’s Office of Inspector General. “The VA OIG’s response to allegations it failed to carry out its mission is simply unacceptable. Consequently, I am calling on the VA OIG to immediately share a copy of any and all complete investigation reports OSC is requesting and strongly recommend the VA OIG formally review and reform its transparency policies to ensure it publicly shares findings in a timely fashion.”

The OSC report follows Congresswoman Duckworth’s recent request that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigate reports that federal Offices of Inspector General (OIGs)—created to protect taxpayers from waste, fraud and abuse—may be withholding their findings from the public and even from lawmakers by unreasonably delaying final reports, potentially in violation of federal law. Since arriving in Congress, Duckworth has consistently advocated for better government practices, increased accountability and reduced waste. She has been a steadfast advocate for Veterans and will continue working to improve quality of care for Veterans in Illinois and across the country.

The full text of Duckworth’s letter follows:

Ms. Linda Halliday
Deputy Inspector General
Office of Inspector General
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs                                   
801 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
 

Dear Deputy Inspector General Halliday:

I am writing to express my serious consternation regarding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) refusal to allow the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to review a copy of the VA OIG’s complete investigation reports. As OSC notes, the VA OIG’s stonewalling and denial of OSC’s reasonable request undermines its “…ability to properly assess the VA’s resolution of these issues.”

Your actions constitute a trend indicating significant transparency deficiencies in the VA OIG’s policies and practices. This week, we saw news the VA OIG may be improperly withholding the release of reports addressing wait-time concerns to Congress and the public. This failure possibly violates statutory deadlines requiring the VA OIG release such reports within three days of finalization.

Congress established the OSC to serve as an independent Federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. The OSC is vital in preserving our Nation’s merit system by protecting Federal employee from prohibited punitive practices, particularly whistleblower retaliation. It is highly troubling the OSC found VA OIG investigations appeared to focus on discrediting whistleblowers at Edward Hines, Jr., VA Hospital and Overton Brooks VA Medical Center.

The VA OIG’s response to the OSC’s allegations it failed to carry out its mission is simply unacceptable. Consequently, I am calling on the VA OIG to immediately share a copy of any and all complete investigation reports OSC is requesting and strongly recommend  the VA OIG formally review and reform its transparency policies to ensure it publicly shares findings in a timely fashion.  

Congress established Federal OIGs to create independent and objective units within agencies that would “…provide a means for keeping the head of the establishment and the Congress fully and currently informed about problems and deficiencies relating to the administration of such programs and operations and the necessity for and progress of corrective action.” However, achieving this mandate requires the VA OIG to comply with reasonable requests from the OSC -especially when there are allegations the VA OIG suffers from serious problems and deficiencies in its programs and operations.  

There is no greater responsibility than properly caring for our Nation’s Veterans. After the abhorrent wait-time abuses that took place in VHA facilities across the country, it is absolutely vital that we carefully study the misconduct and act on lessons learned to ensure we never repeat such shameful mistakes.

The American people will not excuse the VA OIG from addressing these problems. There is an expectation public officials will follow regulations and faithfully discharge the duties of their offices. I hope you will join me in working to strengthen and reform the VA by improving your own Office’s performance and I expect the VA OIG to share its complete investigation reports with the OSC promptly.     

                                                              Sincerely,