In the midst of ongoing investigation about alleged abuse and mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical facilities, the VA’s Inspector General has subpoenaed all whistleblower documents anonymously submitted to the non-profit watchdog group Project On Government Oversight (POGO). POGO has refused, stating that doing so would compromise the confidentiality of about 700 people who sent information.
In recent weeks, a growing number of whistleblowers across the country have alleged that records were falsified in order to hide how long veterans had to wait for appointments. Alleged fake lists made it appear that wait times were improving, and these measures were used to secure financial bonuses and show that goals were being met. These allegations began with the VA hospital in Phoenix, but now involve dozens of facilities.
POGO says in a June 9th blog post that about 700 people have submitted confidential tips to them through VAOversight.org. Current and former VA staffers accounted for about one-quarter of those submissions. Some asked that their identity be kept secret when they contacted POGO, fearing retaliation if their names were disclosed.
The group wrote a letter to the IG stating that is has refused the subpoena because it infringes on constitutional “freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of association rights as they relate to all whistleblowers and sources.” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said in the posting “The Inspector General’s demand stands opposed to POGO’s mission and to good government reform—both of which serve the public interest,”
“Our focus is squarely on investigating the problems in the VA healthcare system and trying to find some solutions.” he stated. “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.”
POGO’s letter states that IG’s office has not shown that the whistleblower information is not already available to the IG, illustrating that “, the administrative subpoena is little more than an invasive fishing expedition. “