Sen. Charles Grassley has sent letters to Medtronic Inc. as well as the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs asking for more information about a high-ranking official at the VA who was once a consultant for the medical technology company.
The Iowa Republican's letters, dated Thursday and obtained by the Star Tribune, ask pointed questions of Medtronic chief executive William Hawkins and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki regarding Dr. Stephen Ondra, who was named senior policy adviser for health affairs for the veterans agency by President Obama in May 2009.
Ondra and Medtronic mutually severed their financial relationship in July 2008. Prior to that, Medtronic paid him $3.6 million in royalties related to spine-surgery instruments while he was director of spine surgery at Northwestern University, according to financial disclosure forms he submitted to the VA.
Grassley's most-recent missives follow a Sept. 28 one to Shinseki that asked whether Ondra's position at the VA is vulnerable to potential conflicts of financial interest because of his previous relationship with the Fridley-based company.
Shinseki subsequently replied that Ondra has complied with the VA's ethics policies and that no conflict exists.
Thursday's letter to Hawkins asks whether Ondra has had any interaction with the company since he was appointed to the VA position. It requests copies of e-mails between Ondra and Medtronic dating back to January 2009, and asks if the company has a policy regarding "communications and interactions with senior officials and other employees of the executive branch."
Medtronic spokesman Brian Henry said the company has received the letter "and we plan to comply with the Sen. Grassley's request."
In the second letter to Shinseki, Grassley asks for additional information regarding Ondra's duties at the VA and whether he has been consulted on any matters dealing with Medtronic.
It quizzes Shinseki about Ondra's financial relationship with Linden Consulting LLC. Grassley said his previous research indicates that Medtronic paid Ondra $265,468 in 2007 and 2008 through Linden Consulting, and asks whether Ondra is still an officer of the firm.
A VA spokeswoman could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752