Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) David Shulkin will post online a list of all disciplinary actions against employees, an unprecedented level of transparency that no other federal agency has dared to try.
And Shulkin’s department has committed to stop paying poorly performing employees to quit because it is easier than firing them — a change that could save millions of dollars and which addresses a problem The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group has repeatedly documented.
“Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we’re doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent,” Shulkin said in a statement Friday. “Posting this information online for all to see, and updating it weekly, will do just that.”
The move shows the prioritization of a well-functioning medical care over the desires of federal employee unions, said Concerned Veterans for America, which said the VA has a “toxic” employee culture.
Employee names and the exact grounds for their termination or suspension aren’t listed, but their job titles and locations are instructive.
“The list includes terminations, demotions and suspensions over 14 days since the new administration came into office Jan. 20. Additional categories of accountability actions will be included in upcoming releases,” the VA said in announcing the change.
During former President Barack Obama’s White House tenure, VA frequently refused to say what happened to employees engaged in callous and self-interested acts, sometimes criminal, at the expense of veterans. They would simply ignore requests from reporters or say they would take “appropriate action” — but months or years later, those same employees were collecting a paycheck.
The VA also allowed managers to pay off employees who crossed them. Under Obama, the department’s general counsel Leigh Bradley–who still serves in that role– even defended a hospital director, DeWayne Hamlin, who offered $300,000 to a low-level employee to quit after she helped expose that Hamlin had been arrested and found in possession of prescription drugs.
Days before VA senior executive Diana Rubens was going to a disciplinary trial, a lucrative settlement was offered to a subordinate, Lucy Filipov, that stopped a hearing in which she might have incriminated Rubens.
Obama’s deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said he would crack down on such whistleblower retaliators, but after he said one hospital director, Japhet Rivera, was a whistleblower retaliator who was unfit for federal service, Rivera merely had to object supposed discrimination and Gibson agreed to pay him $85,000 plus lawyers fees. The payout came despite evidence showing Rivera was a sexual manipulator who rarely showed up for work, and the VA refused to tell the public why Rivera was no longer on the job.
The settlements are such farces that a California VA hospital paid another director $85,000 to “irrevocably” resign from federal services, then another VA hospital hired him back anyway, despite knowing about the terms of settlement.
Indeed, it has become par for the course for the department’s many black employees to claim racism whenever managers propose discipline for blatant misconduct that harms veterans, despite the workforce being 70 percent minority.
Due to federal due process for things like Equal Employment Opportunity claims, managers would then have to file months of paperwork to show that the claim was untrue — or they could pay the employee to drop the case. Seemingly because the time was their own but the money was taxpayers’, managers routinely selected the latter, setting a precedent that got back to other employees.
The vast majority of the time, the settlement agreements call for hiding the fact that the employee was accused of wrongdoing, and sometimes even giving a positive reference — letting bad employees go on to cause more harm.
“Taxpayers need to know that we will engage in good faith settlement negotiations, where required by third parties, but will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged or when settlement is otherwise in Veterans’ and taxpayers’ best interests, and not as a matter of ordinary business,” Shulkin said. “We’re changing to a culture of accountability at VA, and this is an important step in that direction.”
The settlements problem is not limited to VA. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the government secretly paid $900,000 to an employee for the pain and suffering of hearing a “Little Rascals” reference that she deemed racist.
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