VA Official Says Agency Does Not Need to Fire People to Ensure Accountability

Sloan Gibson in 2014 / AP
December 9, 2015

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs official said Wednesday that the government agency does not need to fire people to ensure accountability.

"It seems the term ‘accountability’ has taken on a new meaning. Instead of the dictionary definition-- ‘providing a record or explanation of one’s conduct’--the term has become shorthand for firing people," VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said at a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing Wednesday, the Washington Examiner reported.

"Secretary McDonald and I want to reclaim the term ‘accountability’ in its fuller meaning, in the sense of being transparent about what our goals are and how well we achieve them, what taxpayers can expect us to achieve with each dollar we receive, what veterans can expect us to do for them, by when, and to what level of quality and satisfaction."

Gibson further stated that accountability, in addition to taking "appropriate actions" when problems arise, also entails "rewarding people for exceptional performance."

His comments came days after the VA rescinded the demotions of two senior executives who allegedly exploited a relocation program to receive over $400,000 in salary hikes and perks. The demotions of the officials, who could face criminal prosecution for their actions, were put on hold because of a department paperwork error.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, delivered a strong rebuke of Gibson’s statement, accusing the VA of refusing to take responsibility for mismanagement and corruption that has been revealed in the wake of the fake wait list scandal last year.

"Quite honestly, I think the tone of your statement proves why we are so disappointed with the lack of accountability at VA because it illustrates that the department and its senior leaders still refuse to take responsibility for the corrosive culture plaguing VA," Miller stated.

"Google uses the word ‘accountability’ in a sentence as follows, ‘their lack of accountability has corroded public respect,’" the Florida congressman continued. "If you substituted the words ‘Department of Veterans Affairs’ for the word ‘their,’ it would be 100 percent appropriate."

Miller also noted that the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "accountability" as "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions."

Miller said that there appears to be "no serious effort" on the part of the VA to discipline employees for misconduct. He also criticized the agency for disciplining few VA workers for the wait list scandal, which led to the deaths of dozens of veterans.

"It gets tiresome to constantly be told by you and other VA leaders that things are changing for the better and that you are, ‘committed to sustainable accountability’ as you stated in your testimony, but then to witness otherwise," Miller stated. "The department publicly continues to tout inflated numbers of those it has held accountable but then those numbers don’t square with the truth."

Published under: Veterans Affairs