Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson officially reinstated scandal-plagued executives Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves to their positions as director of the Philadelphia and Wilmington regional offices and director of the St. Paul regional office, respectively, Monday.
Gibson plans to visit the Philadelphia office to justify his decision to employees, union representatives and the press. He will hold two town hall meetings, neither of which will be live-streamed.
In a statement issued Monday, Gibson refused to admit that Rubens or Graves engaged in any unethical behavior, repeating again that the only sin they had committed was using poor judgment.
“Effective Monday, February 22, I have reinstated both Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves to their Regional Office director positions in compliance with the recent decisions by Merit System Protection Board,” Gibson said in a statement. “The disciplinary actions I took, and any follow-on actions I may elect to take as a result of the initial actions being overturned, were based on the lack of judgment they displayed when they did not recuse themselves from the relocation decisions as quickly or as forcefully as they should have. Allegations of unethical behavior in the Inspector General report were not supported by any of the evidence I reviewed.”
The reinstatement comes several weeks after an administrative Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) judge ruled Rubens had successfully appealed her case. The MSPB found the two used “poor judgment” in forcing subordinates out of their positions so they could then fill the positions and accept fewer responsibilities, while still maintaining their high-level salaries and collecting generous relocation benefits. Rubens, in particular, received $274,000 in benefits.
Although the inspector general criminally referred the case for both executives, the judge concluded demoting Rubens and cutting her salary was excessive. The judge also didn’t demote her because the VA did not punish another official involved in the scandal.
“I find that there is a significant problem created by the inconsistent treatment of a comparable employee, and that this makes the penalty unreasonable under the circumstances,” the judge wrote, according to Philly.com.
Gibson wanted to demote Rubens and transfer her to Houston, Texas, while simultaneously dropping her salary by a third, which would still leave her with a sizable income.
Even after promising Rubens and Graves would be held accountable, the VA has totally failed in applying any sort of punishment.
The inability of the VA to hold its own executives accountable has created a switch inside the department. Instead of siding with these executives and passively allowing MSPB to clear them of all punishments, Gibson and other executives have pledged to work with Congress to change firing authority. Specifically, the VA wants Congress to grant it the authority to eliminate MSPB appeal rights for senior executives.
In the interim, Gibson is trying to block the reinstatement of executive Linda Weiss as a director of the Albany-Stratton medical facility, or as director of any other facility. After the ruling was released indicating Weiss won her appeal, Gibson followed up by saying that he views the MSPB’s decision as unenforceable.
Whether the VA will win that battle of wills with the MSPB remains to be seen.
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