Congressmen have become involved in a dispute within the Veterans Affairs, as the department's Inspector General Michael Missal has accused VA Acting Secretary Peter O'Rourke of improperly withholding records dealing with employee complaints, saying it could be covering up potential criminal misbehavior, the Military Times has reported.
The issue revolves around an ongoing request from Missal to review all complaints filed with the department's new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, which was created last year in an attempt to help eliminate misbehavior within the agency.
Missal said he was promised access to those records in his role as an independent overseer for the agency, and he has accused O'Rourke of violating the law by refusing to turn over the files.
O'Rourke said the request was too broad and impractical and blasted Missal's office in a letter for repeated failure to "demonstrate due professional care" and "not performing its responsibilities in a fair and objective manner."
His letter also accused Missal of appearing "to misunderstand the independent nature of your role and operate as a completely unfettered autonomous agency. You are reminded that [the IG] is loosely tethered to VA and in your specific case as the VA inspector general, I am your immediate supervisor. You are directed to act accordingly."
Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz and Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate veterans affairs committees entered the fray this week, with Walz calling it "extremely unacceptable [that] O'Rourke made an explicit attempt to intimidate the inspector general and deter the VA Office of Inspector General from carrying out its legal duty to hold VA officials accountable to the American people and the veterans among them," according to Stars and Stripes.
Tester said "The total lack of cooperation from the VA is alarming and a disservice to American veterans and taxpayers," according to the Military Times, and demanded "the VA 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."
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