A recent investigation has uncovered a shocking tale of corruption and adultery at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Susan Taylor, a longtime federal employee and Deputy Chief Procurement Officer at the Veterans Health Administration since 2010, not only used her position to award government contracts to a former business partner, and worked with said company to hide the thousands and thousands of dollars it was making off the government, but conspired with her married boyfriend — who also had close personal ties to the company — to thwart investigations into her misconduct.
The salacious story began in 1994, when Taylor met William Dobrzykowski at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was her supervisor. By 2006 he’d reportedly asked her to marry him, and in 2007 they picked out a diamond. Together with the mounting, it cost nearly $12,000.
By then they’d both moved on to different jobs — she was the Director of Procurement at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; he was a contractor she’d abused her position to hire. During this entire period, the investigation notes, Dobrzykowski was married to and living with his actual wife.
In 2012, Taylor was apparently considering breaking the news to the poor woman, having drafted an email to her explaining the entire relationship, although it is unclear whether the email was ever sent.
But that’s not all! Within months of starting at the PBGC, Taylor had attempted to get Dobrzykowski a job there, acting as a personal reference for him when he applied to be its Chief Financial Officer. Undeterred when they hired someone else, Taylor got him a gig as a consultant in her department, during which time she was his supervisor. Dobrzykowski’s company, Paradigm Financial Solutions, was paid $80,000 for his “consulting,” and within two months the $12,000 ring was chosen and paid for.
Taylor repeatedly lied to coworkers and and other officials about their relationship, shrugging off accusations of a conflict of interest by asserting that they were only friends, even explaining that they couldn’t possibly be in a relationship, since Dobrzykowski was married. When asked what the rock on her hand was about, she’d pretend to be engaged to someone else.
A 2008 performance review, according to the investigation, stated that “her accomplishments were undermined by her poor judgment and lack of accountability. … Ms. Taylor allowed a personal friend to be hired in her department as a contractor [Mr. Dobrzykowski]; resisted her supervisor’s requirement that the contract be terminated; made numerous attempts to find work for her friend in other departments; and attempted to go around her supervisor to the Director. The PRB concluded that these actions, as well as others, reflected poorly on Ms. Taylor’s individual performance objectives in leadership/supervision, resource management, and technical competence.”
This, of course, is all good enough for government work, since two years later she found herself in a top position at the VHA.
During her illustrious tenure at the PBGC, Taylor had worked with FedBid, a private company that offers reverse auction services, “in which the sellers compete to obtain business from the buyer and prices typically decrease as the sellers undercut one another.” According to the investigation, FedBid’s “Board of Directors, Key Advisors, and Consultants consist of a cadre of former key Federal and Military senior officials.”
Just six months after leaving the PBGC for the VHA, Taylor began her work bringing FedBid with her. While federal regulation prohibits employees from giving private companies preferential treatment for any reason, Taylor openly flouted these rules, reaching out to FedBid herself to get the ball rolling, and emailing other VHA officials about FedBid’s services, personally endorsing them and encouraging other federal employees to get in touch with FedBid’s vice-president. Then she personally invited FedBid to present at a VHA conference — as the investigation puts it, “Thus began a process of Ms. Taylor working extensively and exclusively with FedBid to implement reverse auctions within VHA.”
Taylor helped them prepare their presentations, “created a false sense of urgency to award a reverse auction contract,” failed to conduct market research that would have ensured fair and open competition, helped FedBid “misrepresent its services as being no cost or free to the government,” and, when another VA official finally banned use of FedBid’s reverse auction services, conspired with Dobrzykowski and FedBid employees to overturn the moratorium and “improperly acted to thwart the actions of a VA official responsible for oversight of procurement operations.”
“As you might know, Susan Taylor is in need of your [Fed]Bid’s immediate and direct help in providing information and a white paper requested by [then VA Deputy Secretary W. Scott] Gould,” Dobrzykowski wrote to Glenn Richardson, FedBid’s then president. “She is your champion and you all know that. She is overwhelmed and to a great extent her ability to respond to requests from congress and Gould etc. Is important to resolving the [FedBid] issues. Immediate and all hands on deck is the mantra to support Susan as she responds to requests for IMMEDIATE information, data and papers.”
“Email records reflected that FedBid executives considered Ms. Taylor to be a valuable source of inside information; they were committed to protecting her; and Ms. Taylor expressed concerns that her identity be protected,” the investigation explains.
“Susan called and is getting extremely nervous about some of the emails and other information she has sent to me and how it might be used against her,” Richardson wrote to other FedBid execs in March 2012. “Consequently she is very concerned about her and the VHA. As a result she has requested my continued assurance that we keep her covered — she has really ‘extended herself’ for us over this issue.”
Within a month they’d gotten the moratorium lifted.
Taylor jumped into action again the following year, when the VA Inspector General subpoenaed FedBid’s records as part of an official government review. Acting as an advocate for FedBid before the OIG, she tried to convince them that the subpoena requirements were too burdensome, and worked with FedBid execs to develop a plan to challenge the OIG’s authority to issue the subpoena.
Her other violations, including using VA resources for relationship counseling for her and Dobrzykowski, allowing FedBid execs to bribe federal employees with wine, and repeatedly lying to the inspectors who produced this investigation, are too numerous for a single article (the investigation report itself is 81 pages long).
Perhaps most shocking of all, however, is that the investigators “made a criminal referral of the conflict of interest and false statements to the U.S. Department of Justice, but they declined to criminally prosecute in favor of any appropriate administrative actions.”