For some time now it’s been hard to find a story about the Veterans Administration that didn’t have some species of the word “scandal” associated with it. Sadly, I’m not about to break that trend here today. One of the latest stories to show up is that of a former “research investigator” for the department who, to put it mildly, was using an excessive amount of poetic license when billing his hours. He somehow managed to get paid out of the taxpayers’ coffers to a very handsome tune while not only not doing any actual work, but billing somebody else for the same hours as well. I guess you have to award points for creativity if nothing else. (Government Executive)
The Veterans Affairs Department’s Office of the Inspector General found last week that a former research investigator with the department abused the wage and official time systems, claiming thousands of hours of work when he was being compensated elsewhere.
The office said the employee, whose name has been redacted from the report, only showed up to the Oklahoma City VA health care facility for 30 of the 409 workdays between his hiring in April 2014 through September 2016. And on many of those days, he was working at Johns Hopkins University, earning a total of 1,374 hours’ worth of dual compensation from the government and the university.
So this wasn’t a case of a guy who was shaving a few hours by stretching out his weekends now and again. Only working 30 out of 409 days that you billed the government has to be some kind of record. (Though Huma Abedin may have come close in that embezzlement scandal she managed to avoid prosecution for. I’d have to check.) Skipping 379 days of work may be blatant fraud, but it’s so breathtaking that you almost have to admire the chutzpah. Then again, maybe it turned into one of those George Costanza stories from Seinfeld? The guy was just never there so nobody expected to see him and the bean counters were so used to seeing his hours being reported that nobody bothered to ask?
The bigger question here is… how does this keep happening? I really do try to have some sympathy for and patience with David Shulkin, the new VA Secretary. He was a holdover from the Obama administration but he’s seemed to fully accept his role as the messenger for the current president’s agenda, not his own. He’s gotten on board with cuts to staffing in Washington where required and more accountability with increased ability to fire misbehaving government workers. But still we seem to keep seeing these problems cropping up over and over again.
Is this specific to the VA for some reason or are we only catching more people because they’re under so much scrutiny? I’d always assumed that all of the departments were doing regular audits where such things would be caught, but is that really the case? So many of these sorts of problems take place at the granular level of human resources management that you can’t really expect Shulkin to be in there checking everyone’s time cards all across the country, but… come on, man. Eventually there has to be some accountability. If the Secretary can’t get this situation under control perhaps it’s time to get somebody in there with a fresh perspective.