Tester, Lankford Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Oversight for Veterans at VA

Legislation provides the VA Inspector General with enhanced tools to detect and investigate waste, fraud, and abuse at the nation’s second largest federal agency

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) are kicking off the new year with bipartisan legislation to strengthen oversight for veterans at the nation’s second largest federal agency. 

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 both 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 at the Department.  

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 our nation’s veterans across its many programs and services.   

“The VA Office of Inspector General is an important watchdog – tasked with independent oversight of VA that is critical to veterans, taxpayers, and Congress,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2020, to ensure that the VA Inspector General has the tools to detect and investigate waste, fraud, and abuse, in the most effective way. This bill is a critical step in ensuring that operations at VA are running smoothly and working in favor of those who served and American taxpayers.”   

“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 Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2020 includes provisions to: 

·         Provide the VA Inspector General the authority to subpoena testimony from relevant individuals in the course of its investigations.

·         Require the VA Inspector General to notify the Attorney General (AG) of the United States if he/she intends to issue a subpoena allowing the AG the opportunity to object to the issuance of the subpoena if it would interfere with an ongoing investigation. 

·         Ensure the VA Inspector General makes clear that a witness can voluntarily cooperate with the Inspector General rather than be subpoenaed and to the greatest extent practicable, have the Inspector General travel to the location of a participating witness rather than making them travel far distances.

·         Require the VA OIG to report to Congress regularly on the number of times they have used this new authority and other related topics.

The need for this authority has been identified by the independent government-wide group of Inspector Generals, known as the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), in their legislative priorities for the 116th Congress.