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House committee, VA, clash over data requests

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers is going public with its frustration over the Veterans Affairs Department’s failure to comply with nearly 100 requests for information.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which oversees programs affecting veterans, said Tuesday that it will use its website to highlight the inquiries it says the VA has failed to answer. The panel says its “Trials in Transparency” page will keep a running record of outstanding requests for information.

The committee said it has 95 pending requests. Examples include a July 2012 request for data on the department’s hiring of mental health workers and a Sept. 2012 request for information about conference spending. The panel also cited a January 2013 request for all documents and emails since 2007 discussing the presence of legionella bacteria within the VA’s Pittsburgh health facilities, where an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease is blamed in the death of five veterans.

Department officials said they respond to a large number of congressional queries, conducting in the past two-and-a-half years more than 1,800 briefings and processing about 67,500 inquiries from members of Congress and their staff.