In a vote that applies only to the VA but that effectively sends a message to other agencies as well, the Senate has voted 96-0 in favor of the department’s IG office in a dispute with departmental management over access to records.
The vote, on an amendment to a funding bill (HR-5895) covering the VA and several other departments, bars the VA from using any money allotted in the bill to deny or impede the IG’s access to any records that fall under its jurisdiction and further tells the department to provide such records “in a timely manner.”
The amendment was a response to a complaint to Congress from IG Michael Missal that VA management was blocking his access to information needed for an assessment of the VA’s office of accountability and whistleblower protection. That office receives complaints and makes referrals to other offices, including the IG, for investigation; the IG is attempting to assess whether all complaints that warrant investigation are being referred.
Missal complained after receiving a letter from acting secretary Peter O’Rourke denying the request and stating that even though IGs are largely independent of agency management, “I am your immediate supervisor.”
“The VA must immediately comply with the IG’s request for access to information. The VA leadership that prides itself on transparency is not above the law or exempt from independent oversight,” said a sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee.