Federal Bureaucracy Resists Reform

February 8, 2018

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been scandal-plagued for years. It has run up huge cost overruns on hospital projects and been guilty of appalling mismanagement and fraud related to waiting lists for veteran’s care. Congress has held hearings on the VA’s failures and passed some reforms to make it easier to fire bad employees.

But a new Washington Post story suggests that the department still doesn’t have its act together.

The piece says that the VA fired 2,537 workers last year. Maybe that sounds like a lot, but the VA has a massive 381,000 employees, indicating an annual firing rate of just 0.7 percent. By contrast, the firing rate in the U.S. private sector is 3.2 percent, or four times more than the VA firing rate.

The WaPo story describes how one VA employee who was caught essentially stealing from taxpayers kept her job:

When the VA Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring landscapers and ordering rock salt, mulch and crushed stone, one whistleblower in the department found it suspicious that the supplies never showed up.

Turns out they were never delivered, and an employee had steered the contract to her brother’s landscaping business, according to a recent investigation by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that investigates whistleblower claims.

The employee was allowed to keep her federal job. She was demoted only one pay grade, despite President Trump’s VA Accountability Act, which allows for quick removal of employees who violate standards or break the law in the troubled agency. …

“By allowing an employee who engaged in this conduct to remain with the agency, VA demonstrates a shocking degree of indifference to government ethical standards, procurement regulations, and public integrity,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner wrote to the president in a recent letter.

The landscaping scheme was brought to the OSC’s attention by a whistleblower who led investigators to nearly $1 million in “improperly spent or documented purchases” at the Bedford VA. The whistleblower disclosed suspicious, frequent and significant purchase orders for landscaping materials, such as rock salt, mulch and crushed stone, and said the majority of these orders were never delivered to the facility despite payment.

Ultimately, VA largely substantiated the whistle-blower’s allegations. VA found that Dennis J. Garneau and his daughter, Heather Garneau-Harvey, as Bedford VA employees, steered $200,000 snow removal and groundskeeping contracts to a business owned by a family member, their son and brother, respectively.

VA also found that Dennis Garneau directed purchases of more than $750,000 in “landscaping materials without appropriate verification of delivery, among other purchasing irregularities.”

More on federal mismanagement here.

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