The Veterans Administration has spent $2 million to move one of its new top officials into an office with an unobstructed view of the White House, the Disabled American Veterans charged last week.
The VA denied the charge, published in the DAV's national magazine, saying the move cost $386,000 and had nothing to do with the view.
John J. Scholzen, a VA spokesman, said the move was part of a reorganization plan to group all key department heads into the same wing of the VA building at Vermont Avenue between H and I streets Northwest.
Scholzen said the move was planned as part of a consolidation of key agency personnel and was not requested by the newly appointed official, Wilfred L. Ebel.
"I certainly did not ask" for the new office, Ebel said. "I was told that our people would be moved and this would be my new office."
The VA inspector general looked into the move in response to a query, found no impropriety and pegged the cost at $386,000, not the higher figure used by the veterans' group, Scholzen explained.
In an article by Disabled American Veterans Executive Director Charles E. Joeckel Jr., the DAV said "there comes a time when we must speak out . . . when we see wasteful and exorbitant spending occurring at the expense of programs and services for disabled veterans and their families."
The DAV charged that the money had been spent to give Ebel, the new chief Memorial Affairs director, "a view of the White House."
Ebel said the move was part of a government-wide effort to install modular furniture to squeeze federal workers into less space.
The average federal worker currently occupies about 160 square feet. The General Services Administration, which is the government's housekeeper, is trying to reduce that amount to 135 square feet. Traditional wooden GSA furniture will not fit readily into the new space allotments, according to the GSA, and for esthetic and practical reasons, the government is moving to modular furniture.
According to GSA figures, however, VA employes are already well under the 135-square-foot limit -- the average VA employe uses only 120 square feet.
The GSA has no jurisdiction over VA expenditures of less than $100,000. Traditionally, agency budget officers are careful to keep bills, whenever possible, under that figure, limiting GSA oversight.
"I will from my personal office have a view of the White House, and that was not true in the other office space we occupied," Ebel said. "That was not the intent of the move."
Scholzen said that Ebel's move to the fourth floor was the "completion" of an initiative to put all the key players in one wing of the building. He said it began under a previous VA administrator, and involved the movement of the chief benefits director to the third floor, the chief medical director to the eighth floor and the logistics director to the seventh floor.
Ebel's office space was previously occupied by VA's compensation and pension service. These employes were moved to VA's Washington regional office after at least 12 years in the main office, according to the DAV.
Scholzen said they would be moved back eventually into Ebel's old office space.
"I don't feel any move was really necessary," DAV's Joeckel said. "They're just taking care of their friends."