Lawmakers call for removal of VA official
By Steve Vogel,
The top Republicans on the House and Senate veterans affairs committees called for the ouster of a top Department of Veterans Affairs administrator Tuesday in the wake of an inspector general’s report sharply critical of VA spending at two training conferences last year.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking member on the Senate committee, released a letter Tuesday sent Friday to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki asking for the removal of VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich.
The VA Office of Inspector General’s report last week into two human resources conferences in Orlando last year criticized Gingrich for his oversight of the matter, saying the costs of the conference should have prompted Gingrich “to ask more questions.”
“To say he treated his responsibility casually is an understatement,” the letter from Miller and Burr said. “We can only conclude that Mr. Gingrich’s role was merely to provide the appearance of oversight, nothing more.”
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 last week.
Another VA official, John Sepulveda, assistant secretary for human resources and administration, resigned before the IG report was released Oct. 1.
In a statement Tuesday, the VA said: “Any misuse of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable and that is why Secretary Shinseki took immediate action consistent with the recommendations in the OIG report to implement policies that strengthen oversight, improve accountability and safeguard taxpayer dollars. Assistant Secretary Sepulveda has resigned, Mr. Gingrich’s conduct has been addressed by the secretary, two career employees have been placed on leave pending review of their conduct, and a further review of other career employees’ actions cited in the OIG report is underway.”
Gingrich told IG investigators, “It’s my signature upon that page. And I take the full responsibility. And I should have asked, probably, harder questions than I did. . . . But I also think there is a bunch of senior executives . . . that have responsibilities for the execution.”
Gingrich served 30 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel in 2001, and was a top aide to Shinseki when the latter was chief of staff of the Army.
Conference planners allowed up to $762,000 in unauthorized or wasteful spending and accepted gifts, including spa treatments, lodging, tickets for the Rockettes and a helicopter ride.
The report also noted a $49,000 payment for a video parody of the movie “Patton” shown to conference attendees.
At a legislative hearing last week, Miller charged that the IG report pointed to a “leadership void” at the VA.
“Accountability begins at the top,” Miller and Burr wrote in their letter. “In this instance, the VA chief of staff cavalierly approved an exorbitant conference budget under the guise of a process meant to safeguard against that very occurrence.”