CLARIFICATION: An invoice reproduced on The Federal Page last Thursday contained an incorrect unit price for two IBM XT computers purchased by the Disabled American Veterans for the Veterans Administration. According to a DAV official, the unit price was $3,895, not the $389.50 shown in the document. (Published 2/25/88)
A senior executive in the Veterans Administration solicited veterans service organizations to host parties and donate computer equipment to his office, apparently in violation of conflict-of-interest rules.
Gerald P. Moore, director of the VA's $14.4 billion-a-year compensation and pension service, appears to have sought the gifts, arguing that budget-tightening was hurting the VA and it was unable to afford the machines, according to documents obtained yesterday.
An official of Disabled American Veterans, which purchased $11,719 worth of computers for the VA, said that Moore was being removed from his position, in part because of the receptions and the destruction of VA records that led a federal judge to impose a fine of $115,000 on the VA last year. A VA spokeswoman said last night that Moore was being transferred back to an office in Milwaukee at his own request.
Disclosure of Moore's solicitations of the veteran service organizations comes on the eve of a hearing by a House Government Operations subcommittee that is expected to focus on how effectively the VA reviews claims filed by individual veterans.
Veterans groups, such as the DAV, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, represent veterans seeking benefits in the agency's internal hearing process, and Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), who will chair the hearings today, said he is worried about whether the current process is "the most effective way" to process claims.
Citing the relationship between the VA and the service groups, Audley Hendricks, a VA associate general counsel, said in November that it was improper for Moore to have urged the groups to host the receptions or for the VA employees to have attended them. "In effect, each service organization was buying drinks for VA employees whose officials' actions are important to the service organization," she said in a four-page memorandum.
Another VA lawyer, General Counsel Donald L. Ivers, said in a 1986 letter to officials of the Amvets organization that the VA had no authority to accept the equipment that officials said Moore had urged it to purchase. "Generally, under established rulings of the United States comptroller general, a federal agency cannot accept gifts, whether money or other property, for its own use unless the agency has specific statutory authority," Ivers said.
Despite Ivers' advice, Charles E. Joeckel Jr., executive director of the DAV, which purchased two IBM minicomputers at Moore's request, said that the machines had not been returned. He described the purchase as part of an experiment that was supposed to help his organization track the status of claims it had on file with the VA.
Joeckel said his group agreed to buy the machines, unaware that the purchase was improper and that it probably was the only one of the veterans' groups Moore solicited to make such a purchase.
The DAV was less happy with Moore's request for a reception for members of the adjudication staff, which handle the claims. "We got a little ticked off" when the DAV discovered that it was not the first organization requested to host a receptions for the staff last year, Joeckel said. The other parties were given by the VFW, American Legion and the Amvets, according to Hendricks' memo.
In an internal memo in the Amvets national headquarters in Lanham, James G. Bourie, then the group's national service director, had urged Executive Director Joe F. Ramsey Jr. to support Moore's request for funds. "As you are aware, the majority of our claims involve Compensation & Pension, and by us providing a grant we could reap very favorable public relations, solid relationships, quicker case review, training, access to Compensation & Pension policy makers . . . and other intrinsic benefits," Bourie said, forwarding a list of computer items costing $18,990, which he said Moore supplied.
But after encountering resistance, Bourie wrote to Ivers, who responded that the VA is allowed to accept gifts but that they must be directly related to health care programs or the cemetery system operated by the agency.