Investigative Nonprofit Fights Subpoena from the Investigator General at the VA

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June 9, 2014; Washington Post

NPQ has written any number of newswires about the shifts in the locus of journalism to nonprofits, and as we have mentioned before, these are not always news organizations—sometimes they are human rights groups or groups that monitor the behavior of government and corporations.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has been subpoenaed by the Investigator General of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in an attempt to get it to hand over any sources it has in its investigation into mismanagement in the VA. POGO, a Washington-based nonprofit, says it will not comply.

In a letter dated June 9, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian and General Counsel Scott Amey wrote, “The administrative subpoena served by the IG on POGO would infringe on POGO’s freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of association rights as they relate to all whistleblowers and sources who come to POGO alleging improper administration of federal policies, programs, contracts, or spending.”

POGO, along with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), put up a website in May called to receive information from the public on VA related fraud, mismanagement, and abuse, assuring all tipsters of anonymity and giving them instructions about how best to protect themselves.

“To maximize your security and anonymity,” the site reads, “you should consider using the Tor Browser Bundle for all of your electronic correspondence with POGO. You should never use a government or contractor phone, fax, or computer to contact POGO. The information you submit from this page will be sent to POGO in an encrypted message.” Approximately 700 tips have been received, of which 75 percent comes from veterans with the rest from VA staff.

The VA’s IG wants all of the records that POGO has received relative to wait-times and access to care. Why should POGO not have to comply? POGO sees itself, at least in large part, as an investigative organization, and it has long declared that it “protect[s] the identity of our insider partners the way that reporters in the mainstream media do, ensuring that they are not punished for their patriotism.”

But beyond that line of defense, POGO writes, “The IG’s office has provided no basis to suggest that the information possessed by POGO as a result of its investigation of the VA is not already available to the IG, including through the VA IG ‘hotline.’ Accordingly, the administrative subpoena is little more than an invasive fishing expedition.”

No one seems to know if CNN was also subpoenaed, but POGO says the IG may see POGO as an easier target.—Ruth McCambridge