Members of a House committee want to know why an agency that has come under fierce attack for covering up long delays in service to veterans says all of its senior executives are “fully satisfactory” or better.

That and the performance awards given to Senior Executive Service members in the Veterans Affairs Department were the focus of incredulous representatives at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Friday.

The VA Medical Center in Phoenix. (REUTERS/Samantha Sais).

Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said he called the hearing to examine “the outlandish bonus culture at VA and the larger organizational crisis that seems to have developed from awarding performance awards to senior executives despite the fact that their performance fails to deliver on our promise to our veterans….”

“These performance awards went to at least 65 percent of the senior executive workforce at the Department.  In fact not a single senior manager at VA, out of 470 individuals, received a less than fully successful performance review for the last fiscal year…. I wholeheartedly disagree with VA’s assessment of its senior staff.”

Gina Farrisee, VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration, said performance awards are needed to “recruit and retain the best talent, many of whom require special skills in health care, information technology, management and benefits delivery.  In particular, VA requires talented senior executives to manage the complex set of facilities and programs that VA is responsible to administer.  We are competing in tough labor markets for skilled personnel, both in the public and private sector.”

That didn’t seem to satisfy Republicans or Democrats.

In his opening statement, Rep. Michael Michaud (Maine), the top Democrat on the committee, referred to the department’s “very extensive and diligent process” for evaluating performance.

“So, what has repeatedly gone wrong?” he asked. “Where does the system break down?”

The answer he offered is not a good one: “That the senior most leaders in VA are held accountable for managing the process that benefits VA, not delivering an outcome beneficial to veterans.”   

Read more in the Federal Diary online Sunday and in Monday’s print editions of The Washington Post.