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Eye Opener: Abuses in VA Office of Technology

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Friday! A new inspector general report reveals that thousands of employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs' technology office received a total of $24 million in bonuses over a two-year period, some under questionable circumstances. The "scathing" internal reports also detail abuses including nepotism and an inappropriate relationship.

The AP reports that "The inspector general accused one recently retired VA official of acting "as if she was given a blank checkbook" as awards and bonuses were distributed to employees of the Office of Information and Technology in 2007 and 2008. In some cases the justification for the bonuses was inadequate or questionable."

"The official, Jennifer S. Duncan, also engaged in nepotism and got $60,000 in bonuses herself, the IG said. In addition, managers improperly authorized college tuition payments for VA employees, some of whom were Duncan's family members and friends. That cost taxpayers nearly $140,000.

"Separately, an employee in the office became involved in an "inappropriate personal relationship" with a high-level VA official. The technology office employee flew 22 times from Florida to Washington, where the official lived. That travel cost $37,000.

"The details on the alleged improprieties were in two IG reports issued this week. A VA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment."

The new internal investigation comes amid rumblings that other top VA officials could be on the outs as VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki continues his reform efforts. Earlier this week during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, President Obama said he will ask rank-and-file employees at the Veterans Benefits Administration to submit ideas on how to end that agency's backlog.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | August 21, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Posted by: LeeH1 | August 21, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

As a Department of Veterans Affairs retiree who many years ago carpooled with one of the persons mentioned in the article, I find such behavior abhorrent. I heard the person was permitted to retire - WHY? Prosecution, full restitution, a fine, loss of retired pay and even a jail term seem most appropriate.

Improper and illegal behavior such as described often results in "shotgun" ethics training which thousands of 100 percent honest and dedicated agency employees must endure. Reduce the suffering. Send the guilty persons to jail; that's a much more effective way to get the message across.

Posted by: BMike1 | August 21, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Thank goodness General Shinseki is at the VA to clean house. Otherwise I can see the IG who made the report being put under investigation or forced out for having the guts to tell the truth.

Think it wouldn’t happen? The Amtrak IG came out with the results of two IG investigations concerning Amtrak leadership and personnel management. The investigations showed that Amtrak leadership purposely-obstructed access to it’s own IG for material needed for IG investigations. The IG then tore apart the poor personnel management practices in Amtrak. Amtrak leadership was arrogant enough that it thought it could force the IG to leave and no one would be the wiser. Unfortunately for AMTRAK leaders, Congress found out.

What the VA and the AMTRAK investigations show is that senior government employees (Don’t ever call them “civil servants.” That denotes there might be moral values and competency associated with how the lead and manage) have somehow gotten the idea they can uses and abuse the system as much as they want and no one will take action against them. They can be as blatant as they want because anyone who might questions what is happening will be fired.

Thanks goodness it was the IG that identified these (perhaps criminal) practices and not some individual employee. You know that there has to have been at least one professional VA employee who saw what was going on.

Unfortunately, the same person had probably seen what happened to other VA employees who questioned abusive “management practices.” These employees are either sitting in a corner with no chance of ever getting promoted or they were fired because of the lack of whistle-blower protection and a (former)VA leadership that didn’t care (Heck, they may have been doing the same kind of stuff themselves).

The VA is one prime example of where federal employment has become a jobs program to employ the otherwise unemployable and a place to stick incompetent and corrupt senior managers.

No wonder VA is backlogged with over one millions veterans cases. The needs of the Veterans that VA employees are supposed to serve are not the priority of many VA employees. Taking care of Veterans is a major inconvenience to someone who just wants to collect a paycheck, give jobs to family members or use the VA budget as their won personal piggybank.

The worse part about it that Ms Duncan and other senior level people honestly probably don’t understand what she did wrong. As the IG digs deeper, the practices of Ms. Duncan will only be the tip of the iceberg. Let’s hope that there isn’t political pressure put on General Shinseki to lower the tone of, or stop, the investigations.

Posted by: highexpectations | August 21, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Obama needs to clean his administration of Bushies. He has to do it. The VA has always been too autonomous. They answer to no one at the very senior level and so do the hospital directors. Directors should be replaced on a regular basis. Many homestead for years at one hsopital. This creates staleness, abuse, nepotism, etc. The VA really needs a personnel system overhaul.

Posted by: pkbishop | August 22, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

What kind of message is this sending to our Vets? Money going to people who don't even do a real job, or care to do a job! They should all be brougt to justice, jail is too good, prison terms are more like it!
Crooks on every street corner, thanks to the Bush Administration!

Posted by: jwolfbauer | August 23, 2009 12:59 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully, the IG will dig deeper. There is plenty more. Ms. Duncan is retired but the others are still lurking. I just can't believe that this abuse of power can go own at the expense of the people who go overseas for us and fight with some people not coming home. This is just awful!! Also, I'd be real careful about blaming the Bush Administration. Who hired these high level supervisors? Who pulled the strings to get these high level supervisors the positions that they have?

Posted by: FedUp37 | August 24, 2009 11:43 PM | Report abuse

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