Senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs gamed the agency to snag cushy jobs and collect a total of $400,000 in questionable expenses, a damning watchdog report charges.
The Office of Inspector General report
also accuses one of the executives of wheedling out $300,000 to relocate 140 miles, from Washington to Philadelphia, to her new assignment.
Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves "inappropriately used their positions of authority for personal and financial benefit when they participated personally and substantially in creating opportunities for their own transfers to positions they were interested in filling," the report released by Deputy Inspector Gen. Linda Halliday said.
Rubens and Graves kept their salaries of $181,497 and $173,949, respectively, even though their new jobs as directors of the Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minn. regional offices had much less responsibility, according to the survey, The Washington Post reports
The inspector general's office has referred the cases to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia for possible criminal prosecution. The Posts notes the report also implicates the women's bosses, including Under Sec. for Veterans Benefits Allison Hickey and two of her deputies for allegedly encouraging the abuses.
Investigators recommended the agency take disciplinary action against Hickey, who has defended Rubens amid congressional scrutiny of her moving expenses, the Post reports.
According to the report, the abuses were aimed at getting around a pay freeze at the Veterans Benefits Administration. Between salary increases and relocation expenses, the VBA spent $1.8 million to reassign 23 senior executives from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2015, investigators found.
In all but two cases, the new jobs came with pay raises. The raises fly in the face of a White House-imposed freeze on senior executives' pay — and a ban on bonuses stemming from a scandalous backlog of outstanding claims for disability benefits, the Post reports.
"While we do not question the need to reassign some staff to manage a national network of [regional offices], we concluded that VBA inappropriately utilized [the relocation] program for the benefit of its senior executive workforce," the report concluded. "In addition, VA will consider all the evidence presented by the [inspector general,] collect any additional evidence necessary, and take appropriate accountability actions," spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a statement.
Veterans' Affairs Committee head, Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, was incensed at the findings.
"It is clear from this report that Under Secretary Hickey and others in VA leadership knew they could use fear, intimidation, and timely relocation incentives to coerce subordinates to relocate to jobs they didn't apply for at the taxpayers' expense," he said in a statement. "It is clear that from day one VA officials were using the relocation expenses program to enrich themselves…The actions of the individuals uncovered by this report are a discredit to VA employees and veterans."
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