The Department of Veterans Affairs is not demoting two executives who allegedly exploited a relocation program to obtain more than $400,000 in salary hikes and other benefits.
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson announced Monday that the Veterans Benefits Administration senior executives will keep their high-paying regional director positions despite two unsuccessful attempts by agency officials to demote them, the Military Times reported.
Diana Rubens, the Philadelphia regional office director, and Kimberly Graves, the St. Paul, Minnesota, regional office director, earn annual salaries of $181,497 and $173,949, respectively. Both officials were scrutinized after a September inspector general report found that they forced lower-ranking officials to accept job transfers so they could themselves assume the vacated positions and do less work while keeping their high salaries.
Gibson said in a statement Monday that the inspector general report was not "supported" by evidence and that both executives made "errors in judgment." He went on to defend the executives.
"Allegations of unethical behavior in the inspector general report were not supported by any of the evidence I reviewed. These errors in judgment took place before [the two] assumed their director positions, and the disciplinary actions do not diminish the confidence VA leadership has in [their] abilities … to manage their offices, lead their employees, and provide benefits to veterans," Gibson said.
"The employees of those offices deserve high performing directors supporting their efforts. I have confidence that the employees of the Philadelphia and St. Paul Regional Offices … will continue their efforts to ensure all veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserved."
Gibson claimed to have disciplined both executives but did not offer details about the punishments.
After the inspector general report was published, officials at the VA sought to demote Rubens and Graves and move them to positions elsewhere in the country. However, judges on the Merit Systems Protection Board recently reversed their demotions on the grounds that higher-ranking officials at the VA knew what the executives were doing and did not stop them.
A representative for Concerned Veterans for America, a veterans group pushing for restructuring at the VA, said that the recent development points to the government agency’s aversion to holding employees accountable for misconduct.
"The unfortunate lesson VA employees have learned from this is that they can defraud taxpayers of nearly half a million dollars and walk away completely unscathed. Employees more invested in stealing from taxpayers than in making the VA more responsive to veterans have no business remaining employed at the VA," John Cooper, Concerned Veterans for America press secretary, told the Free Beacon.
"This example highlights not only [VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s] refusal to hold his employees accountable, but also the need to reform civil service rules so that federal bureaucrats have to play by the same rules as the rest of us."
While Republican lawmakers have pushed legislation that would give McDonald the power to demote or remove VA officials for misconduct or poor performance, some Democrats have sought to block the bill and President Obama promised to veto it.