WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Monday accused the inspector general and other officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs of withholding reports from his panel, despite pledges to be transparent.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said the VA's actions were impeding the ability of Congress to oversee a department rocked by a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up delays.
In prepared remarks for a hearing Monday night, Miller said more than 100 requests for information from the VA remain outstanding, including 63 that are months past due. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Miller's statement.
VA officials have challenged the need for some of the information he has requested, Miller said, and withheld others based on "unfounded fears" that the information might be publicly released.
Miller said he won't tolerate anyone interfering with a congressional investigation.
"Let there be no mistake or misunderstanding: When this committee requests documents, I expect production to be timely, complete and accurate," Miller said.
While he is willing to work with VA Secretary Robert McDonald and other officials to implement needed reforms, Miller said he is not willing to let McDonald or anyone else "dictate how the committee conducts oversight or performs investigations."
Miller said he was especially disappointed that the department's acting inspector general, Richard Griffin, has withheld crucial information from the committee, including a draft report last year on excessive wait times at the Phoenix VA hospital, the epicenter of the wait time scandal. The inspector general's office also withheld for months a report on over-medication problems at a VA hospital in Tomah, Wis., Miller said.
Miller said Griffin's office has ignored laws mandating that inspectors general keep Congress currently and fully informed and has "taken the stilted position that other than a semi-annual report," any other reports to Congress are on a voluntary basis to be decided at the IG's discretion.
Miller called that mistaken.
"If VA truly wants to be transparent and open, one of the first things it needs to do is stop impeding the committee's oversight investigations," he said.
Maureen Regan, counselor to the inspector general, said in prepared testimony that the IG's office has complied with all legal requirements for reporting to Congress and responding to congressional requests.
In the past six years, the IG's office has issued more than 1,700 reports, provided testimony at 67 congressional hearings, conducted 400 briefings to members of Congress and staff, and responded "on a daily basis" to telephone calls and emails from the committee and its staff, Regan said.
As required under the IG Act, all report titles are posted on the office's website within three days of being issued to the VA, Regan said. If information in the report is not protected under the Privacy Act or another confidentiality statute, the website includes a link to the report. If the report contains protected information, the title and a brief summary are posted, she said.