Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009 | 2:07 a.m.
Two scathing inspector general reports accuse Veterans Affairs officials in the Bush administration of serious wrongdoing involving nepotism, improper relationships and millions of dollars in bonuses.
Released last week, the reports focus on the department’s office that handles information technology, which is responsible for speeding up the painfully slow pace of processing veterans’ disability claims. Reporting on actions in 2007 and 2008, the inspector general paints a picture of an office that was out of control, largely serving its own needs instead of those of the veterans it is supposed to serve. For example:
• Over a two-year period starting in 2007, the office paid $24 million in bonuses, many of them questionable if not illegal. For example, one person was given a bonus for work done before being hired by the VA. According to the inspector general, the executive overseeing the bonuses acted “as if she was given a blank checkbook.”
• The former head of the information and technology department began an “inappropriate personal relationship” with a woman he had just promoted. The woman leveraged that relationship into a plum telecommuting position in Florida, even though she spent the majority of her time in Washington. The inspector general said her travels from Florida to Washington and back were “excessive” and at a “substantial” cost to taxpayers.
• Executives in the information and technology department abused their authority to hire and promote family and friends. One executive’s relative was given a full-time job while he was still a full-time student at a university more than 500 miles away.
The inspector general called for administrative action against several employees, including forcing them to pay back bonuses and salary they were wrongly given. The Obama administration agrees and has instituted new procedures to stop these abuses.
That is a good start, but the Justice Department should be given the case to consider criminal liability. Congress should also call hearings to investigate and make sure this mess is cleaned up.