As we often report, it pays to work for the government because bad performance, mismanagement, and misconduct don’t get you fired, but they may make you a bit richer.
It appears that the Thelma and Louise duo and other executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) didn’t need to exploit the relocation program to skirt pay freezes. Many of their colleagues continued to earn bonuses despite the Administration’s so-called freeze following the VA scandal.
According to data provided to USAToday by the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, the VA paid out more than $142 million in bonuses at the same time the agency was under fire for prolonged delays in giving veterans treatment and falsifying patient wait lists. Despite a pay freeze on senior-level executives by the out-going VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the agency continued to pay performance-based bonuses to nearly half of its employees nationwide with some 156,000 executives, managers, and employees taking home bonuses last years that averaged more than $900.
Some of the cases were egregious. Claims processors at a Philadelphia benefits office that investigators call the worst in the country each received $300 to $900. In St. Cloud, MN., the chief of staff received a bonus of nearly $4,000 despite an internal investigation report that outlined how his mismanagement led to mass resignations of healthcare providers. Officials managing construction of Denver facility were paid between $4,000 to $8,000 bonuses despite the project being $1 billion over budget.
And even the St. Paul VA benefits office director Kimberly Graves, one of the two officials at the center of the relocation scheme, received a nearly $8,700 performance bonus last year. It was probably for all of the work she and her partner in crime put into engineering their sinister scheme that led to others losing their jobs.
USA Today reports:
VA spokesman James Hutton said the vast majority of agency employees are committed to serving veterans.
“VA will continue to review tools and options in order to ensure the department is able to attract and retain the best talent to serve our nation's veterans, while operating as a good steward of taxpayer funds,” Hutton said.
That’s not good enough for Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House VA committee, which has been investigating questionable VA bonuses for years. Miller says the most recent awards reflect a “disturbing trend of rewarding employees who preside over corruption and incompetence.”
Hutton, the national VA spokesman, underscored that no top senior executives in the Veterans Health Administration received bonuses. “The issues raised in your questions focus on challenges VA has faced in the past,” he said. “(T)he department is working diligently to plan a foundation for the future that will modernize VA’s culture, processes, and capabilities to put the needs, expectations and interests of veterans and their families first.”
“VA loves to tout its bonus program as a way to attract and retain the best and brightest employees,” [Miller] said. “Unfortunately, often times the employees VA rewards with thousands in taxpayer-funded bonuses are not the type of people the department should be interested in attracting or retaining.”
Just yesterday, we reported that the new VA chief is touting their progress in clearing up backlogs and trying to address rising healthcare demand by veterans. While patting the VA on the back, he put in a plug for more federal money to hire tens of thousands of medical staff. I’m sure that to manage all of those new staff members, the VA will also need additional administrative staff and management.
However, until the VA roots out the noxious culture that rewards bad performance and bad behavior instead of expelling it, why should even one additional tax dollar be given to this agency?
That no top senior executives failed to receive a bonus is only part of the larger widespread problems at all levels of the agency. If their leaders can’t see that, what happened in the past is bound to be repeated.