A March 24 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that a former official at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)’s Education Service, Charmain Bogue, engaged in conflicts of interest and misconduct. The VA OIG’s investigation occurred after Senator Chuck Grassley’s urging to investigate whistleblower allegations about the misconduct.
Grassley, often called the “patron saint” of whistleblowers, has pushed for answers to allegations of ethics concerns regarding Ms. Bogue since April of 2021. He has consistently expressed his frustration at the VA’s failure to respond to his letters in a timely manner. In April 2021, Grassley sought information about whistleblower allegations that Ms. Bogue did not disclose “her husband’s income and employment at a firm that directly did business with the VBA.” Ms. Bogue’s husband, Barrett Bogue, worked with Veterans Education Success (VES), “a nonprofit advocacy organization for veterans’ education that regularly had business before the Education Service,” according to the OIG report.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Empower Oversight, the VA released documents that shed light on the VA’s response to Grassley’s call for an investigation. Jason Foster, founder and President of Empower Oversight, wrote an op-ed for WNN stating the documents produced demonstrated the culture of whistleblower retaliation and ethical conflicts at the VA. The VA’s documents revealed VA officials’ reactions to Grassley’s probe: one VA official “attacked a former VA employee in the process of defending himself,” according to Foster’s article.
The VA OIG found that Ms. Bogue, who resigned from the VA in January of this year, violated government ethics rules “during the period her spouse worked for VES.” According to the report, Ms. Bogue’s participation “in VES-related matters without considering whether her recusal was required in light of the potential appearance of a conflict of interest” violated said rules.
In response to Grassley’s probes, the VA OIG found that “Ms. Bogue failed to disclose sufficient information concerning her spouse’s business on her financial disclosure reports for 2019 and 2020. According to Ms. Bogue, the error was inadvertent. OIG investigators identified no evidence suggesting otherwise. After the deficiencies were brought to her attention, she remedied that issue in her 2021 disclosure,” the report states.
The report also states that “Ms. Bogue refused to complete a follow-up interview with the OIG,” and her “refusal to participate in the remainder of her follow-up interview was in direct contravention of her duties as a VA employee.” According to the report, Ms. Bogue’s “conduct hindered the OIG’s investigation and, by extension, its efforts to fulfill its statutory oversight mission.” However, because Ms. Bogue resigned from her position at the VA, the OIG “makes no recommendations with respect to her misconduct.”
The VA OIG’s investigation also found that Ms. Bogue violated the apparent conflict rule via a 2020 email where she “provided her résumé to the VES president. THEN, the VES president included Ms. Bogue among a series of candidates VES recommended for consideration as potential presidential appointees to the staff of multiple congressional offices.” Ms. Bogue said, “She did not know about these endorsements and instead sent her résumé to the VES president for feedback to assist her search for federal career jobs,” the OIG report states. “The VES president refused to be interviewed by the investigators.” Therefore, “[t]he OIG could not reconcile Ms. Bogue’s testimony with documentary evidence in this instance. The report suggests she may have known that VES’s president would use her résumé to recommend her for political appointments.”
However, the VA OIG still deemed this behavior a violation of the apparent conflict rule because “seeking résumé feedback from the president of an entity making regular requests of her office to improve her job prospects raised concerns about Ms. Bogue’s impartiality towards VES in future matters. Ms. Bogue did not consult her supervisors or agency ethics counsel before sending her résumé to the VES president, nor did she consider whether her impartiality could reasonably be questioned in addressing later VES requests to the Education Service.”
The VBA agreed with the VA OIG’s findings without providing additional comments.
In a press release, Grassley called the report’s findings “alarming.” He pointed out he previously sent four letters to the VA inquiring about this situation, “but the VA has failed to produce a single relevant document or respond to any of my questions.”
“This administration has espoused being the most transparent in history, but time and time again, they’ve continued to stonewall congressional investigations. This complete and utter lack of transparency from the VA is unacceptable, and I’ll continue working to ensure those who engage in wrongdoing are held accountable,” Grassley said in the press release.
Jason Foster released the following statement about the OIG Report: “Today’s report is long overdue. These conflicts were an open secret in the VA for years. Supervisors knew. The VA-OIG knew. But, the whistleblowers were ignored until Senator Chuck Grassley started asking questions. Veterans deserve better than bureaucrats who abuse public service to feather their own nests. It should not take prodding from a sitting U.S. Senator to kick the watchdog into gear, but that is exactly what happened here. Whistleblower warnings should have led to action sooner.”
“Where is the accountability for the supervisors who tolerated the blatant conflicts outlined in this report for years?” Foster questioned.