Congress approves the plan to subpoena former VA employees.

Congress approves the plan to subpoena former VA employees.

Under legislation anticipated to be signed into law in the coming days, federal investigators may compel former Veterans Affairs officials to testify about alleged misconduct and waste within the department even after leaving their government posts.

The Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act, which passed the Senate in early April and was signed into law by the House this week, gives the VA Office of Inspector General subpoena power over former VA employees and contractors.

Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, called the measure "essential" for improving VA supervision.

When the bill was first proposed last autumn, officials from the VA Inspector General's Office pointed out that watchdog officials at the Defense Department already had the right to subpoena former employees during investigations. Giving VA IG workers the same authority as their colleagues would bring them up to speed.

According to Christopher Wilber, counselor to the VA inspector general, the lack of such power has impeded numerous recent investigations in which former VA employees simply refused to communicate to IG authorities about problems or crimes committed while working for the agency.

"Testimonial subpoena authority would be critical to our capacity to reach out to someone like that and demand that they speak with us," he said.

"This isn't a criminal investigation into that individual; this isn't about putting that individual in jail." It is about gathering essential information from that individual to find out what happened and why so we can make suggestions to the department about how to handle it."

Wilber cited many more cases in which investigations were hampered by abrupt resignations or departures, with no capacity to compel those individuals to provide information to investigators after they departed VA.

Bill sponsor Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said the changes would allow "more thorough investigations" and "enhance accountability."

Officials from the White House have not specified when President Joe Biden might sign the bill into law, but they have not raised any public objections to it.