OIG Records from September 30th, 2020 "Oversight and Resolution of Home Loan Defaults" Audit Related to Planet Home Lending LLC and VA Phoenix Regional Loan Center

Michael Locke filed this request with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration of the United States of America.
Tracking #

24-05092-F

FOIA Request 24-05092-F

24-05092-F

23-12977-F

24-00065-A

23-12977-F

VBA Response - FOIA No. 23-00895-F

23-00895-F

Due July 22, 2022
Est. Completion Feb. 28, 2024
Status
Awaiting Response

Communications

From: Michael Locke

To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, I hereby request the following records:

I am requesting all records related to VA home loan default servicing deficiencies held by Planet Home Lending LLC identified and indirectly mentioned in the VA OIG's September 30th, 2019 "Oversight and Resolution of Home Loan Defaults" audit.
I am also requesting all records related to VA VA home loan default servicing deficiencies assigned to the VA Phoenix Regional Loan Center identified and indirectly mentioned in the VA OIG's September 30th, 2019 "Oversight and Resolution of Home Loan Defaults" audit.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Michael Locke

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

None

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Mr. Locke,

Please review the attached response to your 10/31/2022, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.


Olaiseh Wambui
Program Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

None

  • 23-00895-F Intake Letter - MICHAEL LOCKE 10-31-2022 (002)

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Good afternoon,

This email is in response to your October 31, 2022, FOIA request 23-00895-F under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Central Office FOIA Office.

Our VBA FOIA office is currently awaiting a legal review of the responsive records. After their review, our office will provide you with an updated status of your request.

We regret the necessity of this delay but assure you that your request will be processed as soon as possible. You may contact the VBA FOIA Public Liaison via email at FOIA.VBACO@va.gov<mailto:FOIA.VBACO@va.gov>.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

A copy of documents responsive to the request.

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Locke,

Please review the attached response to your 10/31/2022, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Veterans Benefits Administration

From: Michael Locke

Hello,

I have a supplemental request. I am requesting all records related to the home loans in disaster areas FY 2019 risk assessment conducted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs Loan Guaranty Monitoring Unit. For reference, this risk assessment is mentioned in passing on page 18 of Veteran Affairs OIG REPORT #18-03979-204. Per the report, "In July 2019, the quality assurance chief informed the audit team a preliminary
risk analysis had been conducted and that analysis did not necessitate a formal risk assessment of the disaster loans area." I am also requesting all e-mail or internal electronic communications from the applicable "quality assurance chief" related to the 2019 risk assessment concerning home loans in disaster areas.

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Thank you,

VBA
Government Information Specialist (FOIA/PA)

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Mr. Locke,

Please review the attached response to your 09/11/2023, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Dear Michael Locke,

Your request has been received by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The request has been assigned tracking # 23-12977-F, please log into your account and review your submission.

The application address is https://vapal.efoia-host.com.

Thank you,
Department of Veteran Affairs

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Mr. Locke,

Please review the attached response to your 09/11/2023, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Michael Locke

I am requesting a waiver of the fees as thie disclosure of the records is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.

1. The VBA’s Loan Guaranty department placed special emphasis on disaster loan modifications in VA Circular 26-20-12 in response to the CARES ACT.

See Section 5, Subsection a, VA CIRCULAR 26-20-12 (https://www.benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/documents/circulars/26_20_12.pdf)

2. It’s estimated that 147,000 VA home loans are currently in default that would have potentially benefited from the relief provided by a disaster loan modification pursuant to VA Circular 26-20-12.

See
https://www.mba.org/docs/default-source/advertising/vasp-review-process-request_mba.hpc_july-2023.pdf?

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Good morning,

An estimate fee letter (attached) was sent to you on 9/15/23 but have not provided a response yet. If you are interested in further pursuing this FOIA request please provide a response by 10/23/23.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Michael Locke

I am requesting a waiver of the fees as thie disclosure of the records is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.

1. The VBA’s Loan Guaranty department placed special emphasis on disaster loan modifications in VA Circular 26-20-12 in response to the CARES ACT.

See Section 5, Subsection a, VA CIRCULAR 26-20-12 (https://www.benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/documents/circulars/26_20_12.pdf)

2. It’s estimated that 147,000 VA home loans are currently in default that would have potentially benefited from the relief provided by a disaster loan modification pursuant to VA Circular 26-20-12.

See
https://www.mba.org/docs/default-source/advertising/vasp-review-process-request_mba.hpc_july-2023.pdf?

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Dear FOIA requester,

Please review the attached response to your 09/11/2023, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Michael Locke

I am requesting a waiver of the fees as thie disclosure of the records is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.

1. The VBA’s Loan Guaranty department placed special emphasis on disaster loan modifications in VA Circular 26-20-12 in response to the CARES ACT.

See Section 5, Subsection a, VA CIRCULAR 26-20-12 (https://www.benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/documents/circulars/26_20_12.pdf)

2. It’s estimated that 147,000 VA home loans are currently in default that would have potentially benefited from the relief provided by a disaster loan modification pursuant to VA Circular 26-20-12.

See
https://www.mba.org/docs/default-source/advertising/vasp-review-process-request_mba.hpc_july-2023.pdf?

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Dear Michael Locke,

Your request has been received by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The request has been assigned tracking # 24-00065-A, please log into your account and review your submission.

The application address is https://vapal.efoia-host.com.

Thank you,
Department of Veteran Affairs

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Your appeal has been received. We have docketed your appeal as OGC Case #168187. Attached is our acknowledgment letter.

V/r,
On behalf of OGCFOIAAppeals@va.gov<mailto:OGCFOIAAppeals@va.gov>:
Office of General Counsel (024)
Information and Administrative Law Group
Department of Veterans Affairs (VACO)
810 Vermont Avenue
Washington DC 20420

From: Michael Locke

1. “ Thousands of veterans face foreclosure and it's not their fault. The VA could help”
https://www.npr.org/2023/11/11/1211855956/veterans-va-loans-foreclosure-covid-forbearance

2.” US Veterans Got a Mortgage Break. Now They’re Losing Their Homes”
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2023-11-09/us-veterans-lose-homes-as-covid-mortgage-forbearance-program-ends

From: Michael Locke

1. On 9/11/2023 I made a request for “…all records related to the home loans in disaster areas FY 2019 risk assessment conducted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs Loan Guaranty Monitoring Unit. For reference, this risk assessment is mentioned in passing on page 18 of Veteran Affairs OIG REPORT #18-03979-204. Per the report, "In July 2019, the quality assurance chief informed the audit team a preliminary
risk analysis had been conducted and that analysis did not necessitate a formal risk assessment of the disaster loans area." I am also requesting all e-mail or internal electronic communications from the applicable "quality assurance chief" related to the 2019 risk assessment concerning home loans in disaster areas.”

2. On 9/11/2023 I received an intake letter from the applicable VA FOIA office in response to said request.

3. On 9/12/2023 I received an acknowledgement letter from the applicable VA FOIA office in response to said request.

4. On 9/15/2023 I received fee estimate and invoice letters from the applicable VA FOIA office in response to said request.

5. None of the documents provided by the VA in response to the request complied with the request requirements as required by the applicable statute and litigated in Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 711 F.3d 180 (D.C. Cir. 2013).

https://casetext.com/case/citizens-for-responsibility-ethics-in-wash-v-fed-election-commn

6. A good summation of Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Fed. Election Comm'n as it applies to the present situation is as follows:

“ Individuals seeking records under the federal Freedom of Information Act can immediately sue agencies that miss the statute's deadlines for properly responding to a request, a federal appeals court reaffirmed Tuesday.

In a victory for records requestors, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. sided with the government accountability group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), unanimously ruling that if government agencies do not tell requestors whether they will fulfill the request within 20 days, requestors may sue the agency immediately without filing an administrative appeal.

Federal agencies recently began arguing that acknowledging that the request had been received was sufficient, which meant that a requestor had to go through the appeals process before filing a lawsuit.

The case, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Federal Election Commission, put to rest the question of whether federal agencies could satisfy FOIA’s 20-day response deadline by simply acknowledging the request and not detailing what documents would or wouldn’t be handed over and why.”

7. The documents provided in response to the request by the applicable VA FOIA office do not state whether the request will or will not be fulfilled.

8. Additionally, Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Fed. Election Comm'n determined that a response failing to state whether a request would or would not be fulfilled was no response at all.

9. At most, an agency has 30 business days from the date of a request to provide a response to a noncommercial requestor (such as myself) before that agency loses the ability to charge search fees.

10. It has been 40 business days since 9/11/2023.

In short, I don’t have to wait for the administrative process to play out to sue for the requested records and I don’t have to pay any fees for the requested records.

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Hello -

Attached is the Final Agency Decision regarding your FOIA or Privacy Act Appeal with the Office of General Counsel, Information & Administrative Law Group.

Please note, this email box it not monitored. If you are filing a new FOIA or Privacy Act Appeal, you can email it to: OGCFOIAAppeals@va.gov<mailto:OGCFOIAAppeals@va.gov>

Thank you,

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
Office of General Counsel (024)
Information & Administrative Law Group
FOIA & Privacy Act Appeals
[Logo Description automatically generated]

From: Michael Locke

Hello,

Is there an eta on when this request will be fulfilled?

Michael Locke

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Hello,

Yep.

Is there an idea for an eta for request 23-12977-F?

https://www.muckrock.com/foi/united-states-of-america-10/oig-records-from-september-30th-2020-oversight-and-resolution-of-home-loan-defaults-audit-related-to-planet-home-lending-llc-and-va-phoenix-regional-loan-center-129831/#file-1134372

Michael Locke

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Good morning,

Since you are requesting records on your mortgage this is considered a privacy request and not FOIA. The Privacy Act and the FOIA are often read in tandem; The Privacy Act allows individuals to access records about themselves, while the FOIA allows the public to access government information.

I will refer your request to the Phoenix Regional Loan Center for a response. Please follow up with Marcus.Young@va.gov<mailto:Marcus.Young@va.gov>
Regards,

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Thanks.

Is there an idea for an eta for request 23-12977-F, the records related to the home loans in disaster areas FY 2019 risk assessment conducted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs Loan Guaranty Monitoring Unit?

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Mr. Locke,

Please review the attached response to your 09/11/2023, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Michael Locke

At no point did 23-00895-F include a request for the following:

“I am requesting all records related to the home loans in disaster areas FY 2019 risk assessment conducted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs Loan Guaranty Monitoring Unit.”

The above would encompass any records generated after the deliberative process ended as well.

From: Michael Locke

At no point did 23-00895-F include a request for the following:

“I am requesting all records related to the home loans in disaster areas FY 2019 risk assessment conducted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs Loan Guaranty Monitoring Unit.”

The above would encompass any records generated after the deliberative process ended as well.

From: Michael Locke

“ Judge throws out fraud case against St. Petersburg entrepreneur Bill Edwards, blasts the VA…

A federal judge in Atlanta has dismissed a years-long lawsuit that accused St. Petersburg entrepreneur Bill Edwards of defrauding veterans and the U.S. government through his now-defunct mortgage company…

Totenberg also blasted the Veterans Administration for doing virtually nothing even though she said the agency's own audits of Edwards' company had ‘uncovered fees and charges violations.'’

‘While the cause of VA's paralysis is anyone's guess,’ she wrote, ‘its complete inaction ... dooms the (whistleblowers') claims.’

In 2006, Edwards' Mortgage Investors Corp. was among eight lenders accused of illegal actions in refinancing VA loans. After six settled in 2012 for a total of $161 million, Totenberg ruled that the suit filed by whistleblowers Victor Bibby and Brian Donnelly could proceed against Wells Fargo and Mortgage Investors.“

https://www.tampabay.com/business/judge-throws-out-fraud-case-against-st-petersburg-entrepreneur-bill-edwards-blasts-the-va-20190703/?outputType=amp [https://web.archive.org/web/20240117174121/https://www.tampabay.com/business/judge-throws-out-fraud-case-against-st-petersburg-entrepreneur-bill-edwards-blasts-the-va-20190703/?outputType=amp]

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Hello,

Your decision letter states in part “Your Initial FOIA request 23-00895-F was received in October 31, 2022 and fully processed by May 1, 2023. On this request, you were partially granted your responsive records. Consequently, the initial part of your subsequent and current FOIA 23-12977-F is duplicate since there are no more records available beyond what was previously retrieved and is therefore this portion of your request is not being addressed under this Initial Agency Decision.”

At no point did the previous request you mention, 23-00895-F, include a request for the following:

“I am requesting all records related to the home loans in disaster areas FY 2019 risk assessment conducted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs Loan Guaranty Monitoring Unit.”

The above would encompass any records generated after the deliberative process ended as well.
If you are stating that no records exist beyond employee e-mails and internal electronic communication regarding “…home loans in disaster areas FY 2019 risk assessment conducted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs Loan Guaranty Monitoring Unit,” please clearly say so.

Michael Locke

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

I am writing to discuss the recent decision regarding my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (No. 23-12977-F). I appreciate the efforts of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) in processing this request.

Upon review of the Initial Agency Decision, I noted that the email correspondence I requested was withheld under FOIA Exemption 5, citing its pre-decisional nature and protection under the deliberative process privilege. While I understand the need to safeguard the deliberative processes within the agency, I am concerned about the specificity of the rationale provided for withholding these documents.

In the context of recent legal precedents, particularly Machado Amadis v. U.S. Department of State (971 F.3d 364, D.C. Cir. 2020), it has been emphasized that agencies must provide specific and focused reasons to demonstrate how the release of particular information would cause harm. The decision from your office, however, appears to rely more on a generalized assertion that disclosure could negatively impact frank discussions between subordinates and supervisors, without detailing how the specific emails in question would cause such harm.

Given the importance of transparency and the public's right to information, I kindly request a more detailed explanation regarding how the disclosure of these specific emails would harm the VBA's deliberative process. A focused and concrete demonstration of the potential harm, as required under the foreseeable harm standard, would greatly help in understanding the decision to withhold these records.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response and further clarification.
Best regards,

Michael Locke

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Dear Michael Locke,

Your request has been received by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The request has been assigned tracking # 24-05092-F, please log into your account and review your submission.

The application address is https://vapal.efoia-host.com.

Thank you,
Department of Veteran Affairs

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Mr Locke,

Please review the attached response to your 11/27/2023, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Michael Locke

I am writing to discuss the recent decision regarding my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (No. 23-12977-F). I appreciate the efforts of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) in processing this request.

Upon review of the Initial Agency Decision, I noted that the email correspondence I requested was withheld under FOIA Exemption 5, citing its pre-decisional nature and protection under the deliberative process privilege. While I understand the need to safeguard the deliberative processes within the agency, I am concerned about the specificity of the rationale provided for withholding these documents.

In the context of recent legal precedents, particularly Machado Amadis v. U.S. Department of State (971 F.3d 364, D.C. Cir. 2020), it has been emphasized that agencies must provide specific and focused reasons to demonstrate how the release of particular information would cause harm. The decision from your office, however, appears to rely more on a generalized assertion that disclosure could negatively impact frank discussions between subordinates and supervisors, without detailing how the specific emails in question would cause such harm.

Given the importance of transparency and the public's right to information, I kindly request a more detailed explanation regarding how the disclosure of these specific emails would harm the VBA's deliberative process. A focused and concrete demonstration of the potential harm, as required under the foreseeable harm standard, would greatly help in understanding the decision to withhold these records.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response and further clarification.
Best regards,

Michael Locke

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

Mr Locke,

Please review the attached response to your 11/27/2023, Freedom of Information Act request sent to the VA Veterans Benefits Administration.

Thank you for your interest in the VA.

Olaiseh Wambui
Government Information Specialist
Department of Veteran Affairs
Veterans Benefits Administration
Office of Mission Support (20M3)
1800 G. Street
Washington, DC 20006
Office Cell: (202) 374-7826

From: Michael Locke

I am writing to discuss the recent decision regarding my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (No. 23-12977-F). I appreciate the efforts of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) in processing this request.

Upon review of the Initial Agency Decision, I noted that the email correspondence I requested was withheld under FOIA Exemption 5, citing its pre-decisional nature and protection under the deliberative process privilege. While I understand the need to safeguard the deliberative processes within the agency, I am concerned about the specificity of the rationale provided for withholding these documents.

In the context of recent legal precedents, particularly Machado Amadis v. U.S. Department of State (971 F.3d 364, D.C. Cir. 2020), it has been emphasized that agencies must provide specific and focused reasons to demonstrate how the release of particular information would cause harm. The decision from your office, however, appears to rely more on a generalized assertion that disclosure could negatively impact frank discussions between subordinates and supervisors, without detailing how the specific emails in question would cause such harm.

Given the importance of transparency and the public's right to information, I kindly request a more detailed explanation regarding how the disclosure of these specific emails would harm the VBA's deliberative process. A focused and concrete demonstration of the potential harm, as required under the foreseeable harm standard, would greatly help in understanding the decision to withhold these records.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response and further clarification.
Best regards,

Michael Locke

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