VA cited for excessive conference spending and ‘weak’ leadership

Thereport,issuedbyVA’sinspectorgeneral’soffice,calledthehumanresourcesconferencesinOrlando,Fla.,“validtraining”exercises,butsaidthedepartmentlackedtheleadershipto“provideproperoversight.”
“Overall,VA’sprocessesandtheoversightweretooweak,ineffectiveand,insomeinstances,nonexistenttoensurethatconferencecostsidentifiedwereaccurate,appropriate,necessaryandreasonablypriced,”theauditorswroteinthereport.“Accountabilityandcontrolswereinadequatetoensureeffectivemanagementandreportingofthedollarsspent.”
ThereportspecificallycitedAssistantSecretaryforHumanResourcesandAdministrationJohnSepulvedafor“abdicat[ing]hisresponsibilities.”VAconfirmedaFederalNewsRadioreportthatSepulvedaresignedfromhispositionSunday.TheIG’sofficesaidSepulvedamadefalsestatementswhileunderoathduringtheinvestigation.
Inastatement,VAsaidtheissuesdiscussedinthereportrepresentthe“misconduct”ofafewindividuals.
“Misuseoftaxpayerdollarsiscompletelyunacceptable,”thedepartmentsaid.“Theactionscitedinthereportrepresentseriouslapsesinoversight,judgmentandstewardship.”
ItaddedthedepartmentagreeswiththeIG’sfindingsandrecommendations.
“[VA]Secretary[Eric]ShinsekihastakenimmediateactiontoaddresstheissuesoutlinedintheIGreporttostrengthenoversight,improveaccountability,safeguardtaxpayerdollarsandhelpensuresuchincidentsdonotoccuragain,”thedepartmentsaid.
Amongtheextraneousspendingcitedinthereportwasnearly$50,000onaparodyvideo.Theauditorsalsopointedtohundredsofthousandsofdollarsin“unsupported”travelexpenses,“excessive”expendituresatthetwoconferencesataMarriothotelinOrlandoandwastefulpromotionalpurchases.
Additionally,VArentedkaraokeequipmentandpurchased“artisancheesedisplays”forseniorexecutives,whichtheauditorssaid“didnotaddanytrainingvaluetotheconference.”VAemployeesdirectlydisobeyedagencylegaladvisors,whotoldtheconferences’organizersthatpromotionalall-purposebags,“padfolios”andUSBhubswerenotallowableexpenditures,buttheemployeeswentaheadwiththepurchasesanyway.
TheIG’sofficesaidthetotal“questionable,unnecessaryandwasteful”purchasesaddedupto$762,000.
Thereportfoundtotalcostswellexceededtheauthorizationforspendingontheconferences,whilefailingtoreachthetargetfornumberofemployees.Organizershadhopedthetwoconferenceswouldtrain3,000workers,thoughonlyaround1,800endedupattending.
TheIG’sofficesaidduetoVA’sfailuretoaccuratelyandcomprehensivelytrackthespendingattheconferences,thereisnowaytoidentifyallthecostsandthe$6.1millionpricetagestimatecouldactuallyunderstatethetotalexpenses.
Nearlyadozenemployeesfaceretributionforaccepting“impropergiftsinviolationoffederallaw,”includingseveral“high-grade,supervisor-levelemployees.”Thegiftsincludedfreemeals,transportation,giftbaskets,spatreatmentsandticketsforaRockettesperformance.
ThereportspecificallynamedseveralVAexecutivesinadditiontoSepulvedaforleadershipfailures--includingAliceMuellerweiss,deanoftheVALearningUniversity,andTonyaDeanes,deputyassistantsecretaryfortheHumanResourcesManagementOffice--andredactedthenamesofseveralothers.
TheauditorsrecommendedVAconsultwithitsGeneralCounsel’sOfficetodeterminetheappropriateactiontotakeagainstMuellerweiss,Deanesandothers.
VAannouncedtwoemployeeshavebeen“placeonadministrativeleavependingreview,”butcouldnotelaborateonwhichtwoemployees,citingprivacyconsiderations.
“Thesecretarywillappointseniorofficialstoreviewevidenceofwrongdoingandtorecommendappropriateadministrativeaction,”VAsaid.


Join AFGE Today

BECOME A MEMBER

LegCon 2019

Vote 2018

Fight Back the EOs

AFGE Events

Event Calendar is for Members Only. Please Log In to see our calendar of events.

LOG IN!

SUBSCRIBE Latest news & info