After a watchdog group and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pushed the Veterans Affairs Officer of the Inspector General (VA-OIG) to look into a possible conflict of interest, the OIG this week released a report saying that one VA official may have broken rules regarding conflicts of interest.
The potential conflict of interest centers around executive director of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Charmain Bogue and her husband’s business dealings.
Bogue’s spouse was a consultant for a group called Veterans Education Success (VES). That group “regularly had business pending before Ms. Bogue’s office,” according to the report.
When the media first picked up on the relationship in 2020, Bogue “may have intervened to delay the termination of her spouse’s contract with VES.”
Bogue also did not cooperate with OIG investigators.
Conflicts of interest are specifically banned when federal government officials allocate funds to outside entities. In fact, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is against the rules. Officials are also supposed to cooperate during internal investigations.
The report, which ultimately said it could not determine whether a conflict of interest existed, still accuses Bogue of the appearance of a conflict of interest between her husband’s contracting work and her work at the VA and implied that she broke the rules regarding cooperation with internal investigations.
Specifically, the report said the following:
- Ms. Bogue participated in matters involving her spouse’s employer without considering whether it raised an apparent conflict of interest and acted contrary to ethics guidance she received from her supervisors.
- Ms. Bogue sought résumé feedback from the VES president to aid in her search for career federal jobs without considering whether this raised appearance concerns in subsequent VES matters, in violation of the apparent conflict of interest rule. The OIG could not substantiate whether she used her public office for private gain.
- Ms. Bogue provided insufficient detail about her spouse’s business in 2019 and 2020 public financial disclosures but remedied it in her 2021 disclosure.
- Ms. Bogue refused to cooperate fully in the OIG’s investigation.
The watchdog group that helped blow the whistle on the potential conflict of interest is called Empower Oversight.
“Empower Oversight Whistleblowers & Research (EMPOWR) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to enhancing independent oversight of government and corporate wrongdoing,” according to the group’s mission statement. “EMPOWR works to help insiders document and report corruption to the proper authorities while also seeking to hold authorities accountable to act on those reports.”
The group’s Founder and President Jason Foster reacted to the issuance of the report in a Friday press release.
“Today’s report is long overdue. These conflicts were an open secret in the VA for years. Supervisors knew. The VA-OIG knew,” he said. “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.”
Read the full report here.
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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Department of Veteran Affairs Building” by AgnosticPreachersKid. CC BY-SA 3.0.