CHAIRMAN BOB FILNER
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Congressional Panel Spotlights Waste, Inappropriate Use of VA Resources
Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, September 23, 2009, the House Veterans’ Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, led by Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), conducted a hearing to review protocols for administering bonuses for employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Subcommittee also reviewed hiring practices at VA, in response to two reports from the VA Inspector General (IG).
Recent reports issued by the IG focused on VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OI&T) and Assistant Inspector General for Investigations James J. O’Neill provided testimony on the findings, which included nepotism, misuse of position, prohibited personnel practices, improper funding of academic degrees, and improper administration of awards. The first report, Misuse of Position, states that $24 million in bonuses were given to OI&T officials. Mr. O’Neill testified: “OI&T senior managers recognized that there was an OI&T budgetary shortfall, but OI&T managers still spent over $24 million on awards and retention bonuses in a 2-year time period while working under a deficit…. We found four GS-15s who received about $60,000, $73,000, $58,000, and $59,000, respectively, over a 2-year period, with some personnel files containing insufficient or questionable justification.“
The second report, Nepotism, addresses hiring practices. Mr. O’Neill testified that the actions of a former VA official “were not limited to the hiring of the family members but also included hiring friends, involving herself in a change of work schedule for her relative, checking on the status of a cash award for the family member, and authorizing expenditures for graduate courses for family member.”
“Our veterans need to be ensured that the bonus system is being utilized in an appropriate manner and hiring practices within the VA conducted properly,” said Chairman Mitchell. “These IG reports, however, accurately show what can happen when the proper procedures go unchecked. I am grateful that the VA Office of Inspector General has agreed to come here today to talk about their reports and give testimony into the correct hiring procedures and protocols the VA should utilize.”
Representatives from VA testified that new VA leadership has implemented new oversight practices to ensure that VA senior executives who are awarded performance awards have shown demonstrable achievement and performance. A new policy has been implemented that requires the VA’s Deputy Secretary and Chief of Staff to verify each award before the Secretary awards final approval. Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould discussed a 2007 review performed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine VA’s performance management system. The review yielded recommendations for improvements and established the need for additional consideration of the performance evaluation process.
Deputy Secretary Gould said, “We have fully implemented all of the recommendations, confirmed that the additional three elements are included in our process and made our own internal modifications. As a result of the significant improvements to our system, OPM and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have granted full certification of our performance management system…. We are committed to continuously improving our senior executive management and further strengthening the linkage between senior executive performance and VA strategic goals and operating plans.”
“It is clear that under past leadership at the VA, there was a lack of oversight that led to employee abuse of VA resources,” said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “The good news is that there is a safety valve in place and inappropriate actions have been thoroughly reviewed by the VA’s Inspector General. New leadership at the VA publicly repudiated these actions, has undertaken stronger oversight measures, and shown us a positive way ahead to transforming VA into a department that delivers for our veterans.”
· James J. O’Neill, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Joseph G. Sullivan, Jr., Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Michael R. Bennett, Attorney Advisor, Office of Investigations, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
· Honorable W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o John R. Gingrich, Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Honorable John U. Sepulveda, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Willie L. Hensley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Prepared testimony for the hearing and a link to the webcast from the hearing is available on the internet at this link: Link to hearing .
Tuesday, September 29, 2009