Reports Cite Abuses in VA Office of Technology

Associated Press
Friday, August 21, 2009

Thousands of employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs' technology office received a total of $24 million in bonuses over a two-year period, some under questionable circumstances, the agency's inspector general said in scathing reports that also detail abuses including nepotism and an inappropriate relationship.

The inspector general accused one recently retired VA official of acting "as if she was given a blank checkbook" as awards and bonuses were distributed to employees of the Office of Information and Technology in 2007 and 2008. In some cases the justification for the bonuses was inadequate or questionable, the IG said.

The official, Jennifer S. Duncan, also engaged in nepotism and got $60,000 in bonuses herself, the IG said. In addition, managers improperly authorized college tuition payments for VA employees, some of whom were Duncan's family members and friends. That cost taxpayers nearly $140,000.

Separately, an employee in the office became involved in an "inappropriate personal relationship" with a high-level VA official. The technology office employee flew 22 times from Florida to Washington, where the official lived. That travel cost $37,000.

The details on the alleged improprieties were in two IG reports issued this week. A VA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The number of claims that the department needs to process has escalated, and the technology office has a critical role in improving the government's ability to handle the increase. President Obama has said creating a seamless transition for records between VA and the Pentagon could help eliminate a backlog that has left some veterans waiting months for a disability check.

Much of the IG's focus was on Duncan, who was the executive assistant to Robert Howard, then assistant secretary for information and technology.

In one situation, a part-time intern with connections to Duncan was allowed to convert to a full-time paid position, even though the employee was working a part-time schedule 500 miles away at college, the IG said.

"We have never known of any other new VA employee provided such favorable treatment," the IG said.

A man who answered the phone at Duncan's residence in Rehoboth Beach, Del., said she was not available, and he said not to call back.

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