Brewing over IG Access to Agency Records
A tangle between VA management and the IG there has morphed into a larger dispute over access to agency information sought by auditors and investigators–an issue that dates back many years and that already has resulted in enactment of several changes in law designed to compel agencies to cooperate.
The dispute at the VA began with a request for access to records in the office of accountability and whistleblower protection–an office created last year that among other things is to receive whistleblower disclosures and refer them to the appropriate office, potentially including the IG, for investigation. IG Michael Missal said he wanted review whether VA management had made referrals to it in all appropriate cases, among other reasons it cited for accessing the database.
However, acting VA secretary Peter O’Rourke balked, saying the request “infers some ill intent” by that office in its dealings with the IG; he also told Missal that even though IGs are largely independent of agency management, “I am your immediate supervisor.”
Missal then complained to Congress that the VA was refusing to provide “information necessary for us to perform our investigative work” and laying out the sequence of events. In turn, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee called O’Rourke’s letter “an explicit attempt to intimidate” the IG and to hamper its work.
Walz and Jon Tester of Montana, his Senate counterpart, also raised the issue to the IG council, whose complaints to Congress about similar behavior by numerous agencies led to enactment of laws including one in 2016 emphasizing the right of IGs to timely and independent access to agency records. They asked the council for its views on the independence of IGs and the “importance of agency compliance with requests from an IG.”