The top human resources official for the Department of Veterans Affairs has resigned and two other employees were placed on leave after an investigation into two conferences in Orlando found that department conference planners allowed up to $762,000 in unauthorized or wasteful spending and accepted gifts including spa treatments and entertainment.
John Sepulveda, assistant secretary for human resources and administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs, stepped down Sunday, the VA said in a statement.
The resignation followed by the agency’s office of inspector general an investigation into more than $6 million spent by the VA on two training conferences in Orlando last year.
Investigators found that the two training conferences, which included classes for about 1,800 VA human resources employees, fulfilled “valid training needs.”
The IG report found that woeful supervision by senior VA officials resulted in “numerous examples of excessive costs and unnecessary and supported expenditures. In fact, we questioned about $762,000 as unauthorized, unnecessary and/or wasteful expenses.”
Sepulveda “abdicated his responsibilities when he failed to provide proper guidance and oversight to his senior executives in the operations of his organization,” the report said.
The investigation also found that 11 VA employees managing the conferences accepted gifts from contractors seeking to do business or already doing business with the VA.
The gifts including spa treatments, lodging, tickets for the Rockettes, and a helicopter ride. Arthur McMahan, deputy dean for the VA Learning University, which oversees the department’s training, accepted a $68 golf package.
Investigators referred one case in which they believe an unnamed VA employee solicited hotel lodging to the Department of Justice for review for possible prosecution.
“The actions cited in the report represent serious lapses in oversight, judgment, and stewardship,” the VA said in a statement.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is appointing senior officials to review the evidence and recommend appropriate administrative action. “Employees who have misused taxpayer dollars or violated VA standards of conduct will be held accountable,” the VA statement said.
The costs of the conference should have prompted VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich “to ask more questions,” the IG report said. Shinseki has told Gingrich that his review of the Orlando conferences was “inadequate and that more questions should have been asked prior to authorization,” according to a VA statement.
This post has been updated since it was first published.