Private Citizens' Involvement in Decision-Making at the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Information on the Purpose, Scope, and Time Frames of Interactions between 2016 and 2018

GAO-20-447R: Published: May 4, 2020. Publicly Released: Jun 3, 2020.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Angela N. Clowers
(202) 512-7114
clowersa@gao.gov

 

Seto J. Bagdoyan
(202) 512-4749
BagdoyanS@gao.gov

 

Carol C. Harris
(202) 512-4456
HarrisCC@gao.gov

 

Shelby S. Oakley
(202) 512-7052
OakleyS@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

In January 2017, then President-elect Trump stated that he and the VA would consult private citizens to help address VA’s issues related to managing and overseeing its operations. This has raised questions about the influence of these citizens on VA’s decisions.

We found that the interactions between VA officials and private citizens took place between 2016 and 2018. Our analysis showed that the time frames for the interactions between the private citizens and VA officials varied by initiative, and former and current VA officials we spoke with had varying assessments of the impact the citizens had on VA initiatives.

A sign that reads Department of Veterans Affairs

A sign that reads Department of Veterans Affairs

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Angela N. Clowers
(202) 512-7114
clowersa@gao.gov

 

Seto J. Bagdoyan
(202) 512-4749
BagdoyanS@gao.gov

 

Carol C. Harris
(202) 512-4456
HarrisCC@gao.gov

 

Shelby S. Oakley
(202) 512-7052
OakleyS@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may obtain advice and recommendations from private citizens and other entities to inform various agency decisions. GAO reviewed VA officials' interactions with three private citizens—Bruce Moskowitz, Isaac Perlmutter, and Marc Sherman (collectively, private citizens)—and others in relation to five activities or decisions, hereafter referred to as initiatives, that VA undertook including

  • VA's negotiations for a contract for an electronic health record system with Cerner Government Services, Inc.;

  • the development of mobile applications to help veterans access health records;

  • implementation of a medical device registry summit;

  • activities on veterans' suicide prevention and mental health awareness;

  • and VA senior-level personnel decisions.

We found that the interactions between VA officials and the three private citizens took place between 2016 and 2018. Our analysis shows that the time frames for the interactions between the private citizens and VA officials varied by initiative and former and current VA officials we spoke with had varying assessments of the impact the citizens had on VA initiatives. This correspondence describes the various interactions on these initiatives. Further, it describes the mode (e.g., email, phone, or in-person meeting), frequency, timing, and content of these interactions as well as their common themes. Finally, the correspondence describes the views of current and former VA officials and the private citizens in terms of the roles that the private citizens played in VA decision-making on these five initiatives.

Why GAO Did This Study

In a January 2017 news conference, then President-elect Trump acknowledged VA's challenges managing and overseeing its operations and stated that he and VA would consult business executive Isaac Perlmutter and other private citizens to help address these issues. The involvement of private citizens in VA activities has raised questions about the extent to which the private citizens had an impact on VA decision-making.

GAO was asked to review issues related to the involvement of certain private citizens in VA activities and decision-making. This correspondence provides information on the interactions three private citizens—Bruce Moskowitz, Isaac Perlmutter, and Marc Sherman—had with VA related to five VA decisions or activities that VA undertook between 2016 and 2018. GAO reviewed VA documents including 223 email exchanges between private citizens and VA officials, and VA officials' calendar appointments and travel records, among other things. GAO also interviewed and received written responses from current and former VA officials, private citizens, and their legal representatives.

For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.

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