VA drops subpoena for whistleblower info
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The Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general (OIG) is dropping its push to force a watchdog to hand over information it got from whistleblowers.

In a letter to the group, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Deputy VA Inspector General Linda Halliday said she has "decided not to enforce the subpoena."

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"I believe that both POGO and the OIG have common goals to protect whistleblowers' identities and hold VA officials accountable," she said in the letter, which was released by Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE's (R-Ill.) office on Wednesday. "My goal moving forward is to ensure the OIG has rooted out all the schemes and inappropriate practices that have potential to delay vital services to veterans."

Then-Acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin issued the subpoena against POGO last year, in the wake of a countrywide scandal where VA officials were accused of manipulating data to hide how long veterans had been waiting for a medical appointment.

The subpoena asked for "all records that POGO has received from current or former employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans, and other individuals or entities relating in any way to wait times, access to care, and/or patient scheduling issues at the Phoenix, Arizona VA Health Care System and any other VA medical facility."

But POGO refused to comply, suggesting in a letter to the VA inspector general's office that doing so would undermine the organization and its sources, some of whom suggested they feared retaliation.

"The people coming to POGO have a shared interest in our investigative reporting and efforts to expose and remedy the failures at the VA. That shared interest includes allowing those sources to make disclosures to POGO without fear of being identified and possibly retaliated against," Danielle Brian, the group's executive director, and Scott Amey, the group's general counsel, said in the letter.

Halliday said in this week's letter to POGO that because the organization didn't turn over documents by the June 13, 2014, date in the subpoena, it had expired.

"Because that return date has lapsed and we did not elect to press the Department of Justice for judicial enforcement the subpoena is moot," she said.

The VA OIG decision to subpoena the watchdog group raised eyebrows among lawmakers. In a hearing late last month, Kirk told Halliday that "it would seem that you would want to retaliate against all of POGO's whistleblowers."

The VA official suggested during the hearing that there had been "some communication errors" surrounding the demand for POGO's information but acknowledged "that POGO could have that perception. I do not think that was the perception of the IG."

Asked by Kirk what her response would be if he asked her to withdraw the subpoena, Halliday said that "at this point I would hope that there is no information at POGO that would have resulted in patient harm that we wouldn't have known about to go take a look at."

Kirk quickly took credit on Wednesday for the decision.

"The OIG’s decision was the direct result of a hearing Senator Kirk ... held on systemic corruption in the VA and abuse of veterans at many American VA hospitals," his office said in a release.

Kirk is up for reelection in 2016 and is one of the Democrats' top targets. He is facing a challenge from Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who, like Kirk, is also a veteran.

Halliday added in her letter to POGO that she had asked her staff to work with the group to get "relevant de-identified information" on the approximately 800 complaints received from VA officials and veterans.