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Watchdog: Accountability

House panels deploy subpoenas, new website in quest for VA documents

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Watchdog,Mark Flatten,Veterans Affairs,Waste and Fraud,Accountability

Frustrated lawmakers trying to chisel information from the Department of Veterans Affairs have turned to shame and subpoenas.

Yet a VA spokeswoman who would not be quoted by name insists in a written statement that the agency is already being transparent.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a subpoena Tuesday for VA emails dealing with a pair of shockingly overpriced training conferences in Orlando two years ago. The committee has been trying to get those documents for almost a year.

Also Tuesday, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs launched a new web page, dubbed Trials in Transparency, to highlight the committee's inability to get documents from VA.

It is a joint effort of the committee chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and ranking Democrat, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, both of whom expressed frustration at VA's opaqueness.

The veterans committee has 95 outstanding requests for documents or other information pending at VA, two of which are at least a year old.

"When the department drags its feet in providing information requested by Congress, it inhibits our ability to ensure America's veterans are receiving the care and benefits they have earned," Miller said.

"Our veterans deserve a VA that sets the standard for openness, honesty and transparency. When the department fails to do so, they must answer for that failure."

Michaud is equally impatient.

"I hope VA leadership will work to reverse this trend of unresponsiveness," he said.

VA officials said in a written statement that Secretary Eric Shinseki deems the wasteful spending at the Orlando conferences "unacceptable" and has taken steps to improve oversight and accountability.

The statement was sent to the Washington Examiner late Tuesday in response to the subpoena issued by the oversight committee. It does not directly address congressional concerns about the agency's lack of transparency.

The statement claims VA has provided the oversight committee with hundreds of pages of documents related to the Orlando conferences, and has "previously committed to providing a majority of the information referenced in the subpoena."

Among the documents are more than 7,000 emails, according to the VA statement.

The subpoena seeks all communications related to the conferences from 13 department officials, including Shinseki.

VA spent at least $6.1 million on the conferences, including (as first reported in the Washington Examiner) as much as $762,000 on things like a $50,000 parody of the movie "Patton," according to an Inspector General's report issued in October.

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Mark Flatten

Senior Watchdog Reporter
The Washington Examiner