Senator Chuck Grassley hammers VA Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher with allegations she misled the Senate during the confirmation process last summer.
Statements from agency leadership, including then-Chair of Staff Tanya Bradsher, were made following whistleblower complaints from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees. Apparently, correspondence from and about VA whistleblowers was allegedly not protected in compliance with federal privacy laws.
In a detailed demand letter dated January 17, 2024, Grassley addresses now-Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher of VA, expressing serious concerns over misleading answers and the mishandling of sensitive information within the VA’s VIEWS correspondence system.
Bradsher is seemingly missing-in-action as she has failed to provide the demanded responses by the deadline set by the senator of January 31, 2024.
Misleading Answers During the Nomination Process
Senator Chuck Grassley’s letter to Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher articulates significant concerns regarding her nomination process, explicitly stating, “Your nomination to be Deputy Secretary drew significantly more opposition than for any nominee ever confirmed to the position, largely because of the questions that you failed to adequately answer.”
This sentence underscores the gravity of the opposition Bradsher faced, attributed directly to her responses during the nomination process. Grassley further elaborates on the nature of the misleading information provided to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), emphasizing the discrepancies in Bradsher’s testimony.
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He points out, “As part of your SVAC proceedings, you were asked questions for the record by Senator Blackburn in May and additional questions by Senator Moran in June related to your role in the VA’s now well-documented mishandling of veterans’ personal identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), whistleblower information, and other sensitive data in the VA’s VIEWS correspondence system, in violation of federal privacy laws. Your answers were misleading, as this letter will describe.”
The letter meticulously details the instances of misleading statements, particularly highlighting a memo circulated by VA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs, which falsely reassured the committee about the security of the VIEWS system.
The VIEWS System’s Security Flaws
Grassley notes, “Mr. Aaron Scheinberg, VA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs, circulated a misleading memo to SVAC members on July 12, the day before it voted on your nomination, denying that the VIEWS system was ‘rife with security issues,’ and denying that, ‘thousands of VIEWS files are not being properly treated,’ even though the VA had long known about widespread privacy issues with the VIEWS system and had already verified that fact with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).”
The senator made the following demands for information:
- Documentation of Awareness: Grassley requests “all records from the VA documenting when all senior officials, including you and your office, first came to know about the VIEWS privacy issue, and how they were informed.”
- Details on Changes to the VIEWS System: He asks for full details on when changes were implemented to the VIEWS system, specifically regarding the visibility of sensitive information in cases marked as such, to clarify whether such information would have been viewable at the time of Bradsher’s answers to the Committee.
- Explanation of Audit Processes: Grassley seeks an immediate explanation for the discrepancy between Bradsher’s answers and the details provided in the VA’s report regarding the auditing of the VIEWS system, including when and why the VA ceased to have this audit and logging capability.
- Clarification on Handling of Medical Records: The senator requests clarification on Bradsher’s claim that VIEWS “does not handle medical records,” in light of evidence suggesting otherwise.
Requests for Transparency
Grassley demands accountability, requesting all records documenting when VA senior officials were informed about the VIEWS privacy issues. He emphasizes the need for honesty in the confirmation process, stating, “It is important for us to assure that you, and those assisting you in your confirmation process, were candid with the Senate in responding to this question.”
Discrepancies and Misleading Claims
The senator challenges several of Bradsher’s claims, including the VA’s auditing processes and the handling of medical records within the VIEWS system. He points out contradictions between Bradsher’s statements and the findings of a VA report to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), particularly noting, “this information directly contradicts your claim that the VA conducts audits to determine if information in VIEWS is ‘accessed appropriately.'”
Prior Grassley – Bradsher Opposition
This was not the first time the senator was critical of Bradsher in writing.
Prior to her confirmation, Grassley penned a statement just before the Senate vote to confirm Bradsher for her present role at VA.
Download: Grassley September 2023 Statement
Grassley issued a statement on September 7, 2023, urging the Senate to vote against the nomination of Ms. Tanya Bradsher for Deputy Secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Grassley highlighted Bradsher’s role in what he characterized as the VA’s repeated indifference to congressional oversight and her involvement in the agency’s deficient response to investigations into VA corruption and the mishandling of sensitive veterans’ information. He pointed out that under Bradsher’s watch, the VA’s Integrated Enterprise Workflow Solution (VIEWS) system exposed veterans’ private information to unauthorized VA employees, contradicting her statements about the security of such data.
Grassley criticized Bradsher’s misleading responses during her Committee proceedings, particularly regarding the handling of veterans’ medical records in the VIEWS system. Despite initially denying that VIEWS handled medical records, Bradsher later admitted that such records were indeed stored and exposed within the system. Grassley argued that Bradsher’s contradictory statements and failure to acknowledge known privacy issues were disqualifying for her nomination.
He also expressed astonishment at Bradsher’s denial of knowledge regarding any negative consequences faced by individuals due to their information being exposed in VIEWS, despite whistleblower complaints directly to her office.
The senator further detailed the VA’s delayed and inadequate response to the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) findings on VIEWS’ privacy flaws, which confirmed the exposure of sensitive information and contradicted Bradsher’s and the VA’s previous assurances. Grassley condemned the VA’s and Bradsher’s lack of candor and transparency, highlighting a misleading memo circulated before Bradsher’s Committee vote and the VA’s failure to address data security issues promptly.
He concluded by emphasizing Bradsher’s role in the VA’s stonewalling of his investigations into corruption and her inability to protect sensitive veteran information, urging the Senate to reject her nomination to send a clear message to the VA about prioritizing veterans’ needs.
YouTube Coverage Pre-Confirmation Vote
Conclusion: A Call for Answers
Senator Grassley’s letter concludes with a strong call for clarity and accountability from Deputy Secretary Bradsher and VA. He seeks detailed explanations for the discrepancies between Bradsher’s responses to the SVAC and the actual handling of sensitive information within the VIEWS system.
This letter underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in the management of veterans’ sensitive information and raises critical questions about the integrity of the VA’s internal processes and communication with Congress.
Bradsher failed to answer Grassley’s questions by the January 31, 2024, deadline.
Grassley Demand Letter To Bradsher
Here is a link to Grassley’s letter on SCRIBD. The plugin for this feature is not working properly to display the letter in its original form.