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Congresswoman Duckworth: Our Veterans and All Taxpayers Deserve Transparency from the Watchdogs Created to Protect Them

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 26, 2016.  Continuing her work to improve government accountability, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-08) yesterday called for a Congressional hearing to investigate reports that federal Offices of Inspector General (OIGs)—created to protect taxpayers from waste, fraud and abuse—may be withholding their findings from the public and even from lawmakers by unreasonably delaying final reports, potentially in violation of federal law. The Congresswoman’s call comes as a USA Today report indicates that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) OIG may have put Veteran lives at risk through its failure to release findings of more than 100 investigations into Veteran care.

“After the abhorrent wait-time abuses that took place in VHA facilities across the country, it is absolutely vital that we carefully study the misconduct and act on lessons learned to ensure we never repeat such disgraceful mistakes,”wrote the Congresswoman in a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz. “Congress cannot achieve this important mission if the VA OIG continues to evade transparency and withhold important findings. Such actions may violate statutory deadlines… and worse, deprive the public and their elected representatives from understanding and acting on detailed examinations of mismanagement within the Veterans Health Administration.”

Since arriving in Congress, Duckworth has consistently advocated for better government practices, increased accountability and reduced waste. She is the author of a bipartisan provision that passed the House which would have improved agency response time to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from citizens and increased agency accountability in cases when deadlines are missed. The Congresswoman has voluntarily given back more than $10,000 of her own salary to taxpayers, introduced the bipartisan SERV Act with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to protect veterans and their earned benefits from fraud and abuse, and successfully passed legislation to reduce redundancy in Armed Forces uniforms that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated will save taxpayers more than $4 billion over the next 5 years.

The full text of Duckworth’s letter requesting this hearing follows and is attached:

The Honorable Jason Chaffetz, Chairman

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

2157 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Chaffetz:

I am writing to request the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform schedule a hearing as quickly as possible to investigate reports of inappropriate Office of Inspector General transparency policies and practices. For example, a recent report found that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) may be unreasonably withholding the release of VA OIG reports addressing wait-time concerns to both Congress and the public.

If true, such actions may violate statutory deadlines requiring VA OIG release such reports within three days of finalization,and worse, deprive the public and their elected representatives from understanding and acting on detailed examinations of mismanagement within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). There is a compelling and urgent need for Congress to examine allegations the VA OIG is refusing to release completed materials on wait-time failures and determine if the VA OIG disclosure problems are endemic of broader transparency deficiencies at OIGs throughout the Federal Government. It is equally important any hearing on this matter focus on identifying critical and necessary reforms.

Congress established Federal OIGs to create independent and objective units within agencies that would “…provide a means for keeping the head of the establishment and the Congress fully and currently informed about problems and deficiencies relating to the administration of such programs and operations and the necessity for and progress of corrective action.” However, achieving this clear goal of Congress requires OIGs to make every reasonable effort to provide the elected representatives of the taxpayers that fund OIG operations, access to completed OIG reports in a timely manner.

As the Committee tasked with overseeing Federal OIGs, we have a unique responsibility to ensure the requirements of the Inspector General Act are effectively enabling OIGs to meet the original purpose of that seminal Act. Indeed, one of the reasons this hearing would be appropriately handled within our Committee is that we are best positioned to act if our work discovers a need to strengthen existing statutory requirements governing all OIGs.

As the author of a bipartisan House-passed amendment to improve Freedom of Information Act response times, I am committed to strengthening government accountability and transparency – critical good government goals to which I know you are equally committed as head of our Committee. Furthermore, I know you share my strong conviction that there is no greater responsibility than properly caring for our Nation’s Veterans.

After the abhorrent wait-time abuses that took place in VHA facilities across the country, it is absolutely vital that we carefully study the misconduct and act on lessons learned to ensure we never repeat such disgraceful mistakes. However, Congress cannot achieve this important mission if the VA OIG continues to evade transparency and withhold important findings. I hope that you will join me in acting to fix this unacceptable situation.

Source: http://www.duckworth.house.gov

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