U.S. senators James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, and Jon Tester, D-Montana, are kicking off the new year with bipartisan legislation to strengthen oversight for veterans.
Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) does not have testimonial subpoena authority to compel former VA employees who have left federal service, former contractor personnel who performed work for the department, or other potentially relevant individuals, to provide information in VA OIG investigations. These restrictions limit VA OIG’s and Congress’ ability to conduct thorough and complete reviews of VA programs, management, and contracts that are critical in providing robust oversight, critics say.
The senators’ Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2020 would authorize VA OIG to subpoena testimony from relevant individuals in the course of its inspections, reviews, and investigations, ensuring VA performs at the highest and most efficient levels for the nation’s veterans across its programs and services.
“This bill would provide the VA Office of Inspector General with additional authority to fully adjudicate cases by providing them the ability to subpoena testimony from all relevant parties involved in an investigation, including past employees,” said Lankford.
“Our first goal is to ensure our veterans are receiving the best care possible, but in the event that an investigation is required and individuals are unwilling to be forthcoming with their testimony, then the Inspector General should have every tool available to them in order to provide transparency and recommendations to address any issues in the future.”
The act’s provisions include:
• Provide the VA Inspector General the authority to subpoena testimony from relevant individuals in the course of investigations.
• Require the VA Inspector General to notify the U.S. Attorney General (AG) if he/she intends to issue a subpoena, allowing the AG to object if that subpoena would interfere with an ongoing investigation.
• Ensure the VA Inspector General makes clear that a witness can voluntarily cooperate rather than be subpoenaed, and to the greatest extent practicable, have the Inspector General travel to the location of a participating witness.
• Require the VA OIG to report to Congress regularly on the number of times they have used this new authority, and other related topics.