The Department of Veterans Affairs’ in-house watchdog has demanded that the Project On Government Oversight turn over all information it has collected related to abuses and mismanagement at VA medical facilities, according to a subpoena delivered to POGO May 30.
The subpoena from the VA Office of Inspector General demands all records POGO has received from current or former VA employees, as well as any other individuals, including veterans. The subpoena asks for records related to “wait times, access to care, and/or patient scheduling issues at the Phoenix, Arizona VA Healthcare System and any other VA medical facility.”
POGO, which has a 33-year history of working with whistleblowers to expose government fraud, waste and abuse, wrote the IG today and refused to provide the records, most of which have come from confidential tips submitted through VAOversight.org.
POGO and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) launched VAOversight.org on May 15 to offer potential whistleblowers a safe channel to confidentially report abuses in the VA healthcare system, which have been the focus of intense media scrutiny and congressional hearings in recent weeks.
Since the website went live, about 700 people have submitted tips or aired grievances. About 25 percent of those tips have come from current or former VA staffers. POGO is reviewing the information it has received and is looking into many of the claims.
In a letter sent to the IG this morning, POGO said the IG’s subpoena infringes on POGO’s constitutional “freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of association rights as they relate to all whistleblowers and sources.”
Some VA employees who contacted POGO and requested confidentiality said they feared retaliation if their names were divulged. Any of them could have reported their concerns to the VA inspector general. In fact, some of the employees told POGO that they had filed reports with the IG. Some people expressed a lack of confidence in the Office of the Inspector General.
“The Inspector General’s demand stands opposed to POGO’s mission and to good government reform—both of which serve the public interest,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said. “Our focus is squarely on investigating the problems in the VA healthcare system and trying to find some solutions.
“Our mission as a public interest watchdog would be severely damaged if we violated the trust of our sources. We have faced these kinds of threats before and have never wavered. We will not violate the trust whistleblowers have placed in us by revealing their identities to anyone.”