Just yesterday, Ed asked what it take to get fired at the VA these days. Members on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee apparently read Ed’s column because they had similar questions themselves when they chatted with Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, but the answers were generally held to be something less than satisfactory. (Washington Post)

A Veterans Affairs official on Wednesday defended the department’s decision to demote but not fire two senior executives who collected $400,000 in a relocation scheme, and pushed back sharply against lawmakers for pressing for punishment rather than accountability for the VA workforce.

“In my many years in the private sector, I’ve never encountered an organization where leadership was measured by how many people you fired,” Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“You can’t fire your way to excellence.”

The main case under discussion during the hearing was one which we’ve covered here extensively. They were talking about Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, who forced lower level regional managers out of their jobs, took the positions for themselves and pocketed nearly a half million dollars in relocation expenses so they could move to more desirable locations. After they were caught at the scheme they were reduced one grade in pay and seniority, but kept their jobs and – even more shockingly – at least part of the relocation expenses.

So you can’t “fire your way to excellence” but it would seem to most of us in the private sector that you could at least fire thieves, no? Not according to Mr. Gibson.

But Gibson, reading from prepared testimony, said the inspector general’s office exaggerated the actions, which the watchdog’s office has referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

“We won’t administer punishment based on IG opinions, referrals to the Department of Justice, recycled and embellished media accounts, or external pressure,” Gibson said. “It’s simply not right, and it’s not in the best interest of the veterans we serve.” He called the cases “failures in judgment” and not “ethical breaches.”

I’m sorry… did you really just call it a failure in judgement? If you’re an office manager and you order a new table for the conference room that costs $1,500 when a quick check would have found an equivalent model for 400 dollars less you’ve demonstrated a failure in judgement. When you force people out of their jobs so you can take the easier post in a nicer location for yourself at your current, higher pay rate, you’ve demonstrated a willingness to commit fraud. And keeping the relocation money demonstrates a complete lack of remorse for your scandalous actions and pokes a thumb in the eye of the taxpayers who fund your cushy lifestyle.

Sloan seems to be making it abundantly clear that there will be no changes coming to the VA any time soon unless the highest levels of management are given the boot immediately. Is there anyone in the Obama administration capable of that sort of decisive action? There’s no sign of it so far.