A watchdog group that's trying to keep tabs on mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday that it won't comply with a law enforcement subpoena seeking its correspondence with current or former VA employees.
The subpoena from the VA's Office of Inspector General comes weeks after the D.C.-based nonprofit group, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), announced the launch of a confidential tip line for VA whistleblowers.
About 700 people have provided information to POGO amid a VA scandal fueled by reports of falsified wait-time records and patient delays.
POGO's executive director, Danielle Brian, said in a statement Monday that the group will not turn over the records. She said the subpoena infringes on the group's constitutional rights.
"Our mission as a public-interest watchdog would be severely damaged if we violated the trust of our sources," Ms. Brian said in a statement. "We have faced these kinds of threats before and have never wavered. We will not violate the trust whistleblowers have placed in us by revealing their identities to anyone."
So far, about 175 current or former VA employees have sent information to POGO's confidential tip line, the group said. Some had already filed reports detailing mismanagement with the VA's Office of Inspector General, but expressed a lack of confidence in the agency's internal watchdog, according to POGO.
In the subpoena, the IG said it was conducting oversight into whether VA provided timely care to veterans at the VA's medical center in Phoenix.
The IG's office declined Monday to comment about the subpoena and POGO's refusal to comply with it.
Last week, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson confirmed that 18 veterans had died while waiting for medical appointments at the facility, a figure that he said was in addition to the 17 reported last month by the VA's inspector general.
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