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WASHINGTON – In light of a recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was joined today by Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to send letters to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and U.S General Services Administration (GSA) leadership asking for more information about problematic employment practices at the VA. 

The September 2015 report outlined troubling instances of rigged employment decisions and payments of exorbitant relocation fees to employees who steered themselves into positions in other cities. Jurisdiction of issues regarding the federal workforce and federal employee relocation falls under the purview of OPM and GSA. 

“A recently published Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report has alleged that senior VA employees acted improperly by orchestrating job openings, steering themselves into the new positions at higher salaries than their predecessors, and reaping large relocation payments to move to begin employment in these new jobs,” the Senators wrote. “These are serious allegations, which led to the VA OIG making criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding the actions of two VA officials.  We ask your assistance in understanding what procedures are in place to prevent the abuse of taxpayer dollars in relocation expenses.  

“Specifically, according to the OIG report, Diana Rubens arranged her own re-assignment from her post as Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations in Washington, D.C. to that of Director of the Philadelphia and Wilmington VA Regional Offices in June 2014,” they continued. “During her transition to her new position, Ms. Rubens allegedly billed the VA $274,019 for her move to Philadelphia and to arrange for new housing. Additionally, the OIG found that Kimberly Graves, working in concert with Ms. Rubens, left her position as the Director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Eastern Area Office in Philadelphia last October to become director of the St. Paul, Minn., VA regional office. She charged the VA  $129,467 for her moving expenses.”

The text of both letters are below and pdfs can be found here (OPM) and here (GSA). 

The text of the letter to OPM:

Dear Acting Director Cobert:

A recently published Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report[1] has alleged that senior VA employees acted improperly by orchestrating job openings, steering themselves into the new positions at higher salaries than their predecessors, and reaping large relocation payments to move to begin employment in these new jobs. These are serious allegations, which led to the VA OIG making criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding the actions of two VA officials.  We ask your assistance in understanding what procedures are in place to prevent the abuse of taxpayer dollars in both the federal employment and relocation process.  

Specifically, according to the OIG report, Diana Rubens arranged her own re-assignment from her post as Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations in Washington, D.C. to that of Director of the Philadelphia and Wilmington VA Regional Offices in June 2014.  During her transition to her new position, Ms. Rubens allegedly billed the VA $274,019 for her move to Philadelphia and to arrange for new housing. Additionally, the OIG found that Kimberly Graves, working in concert with Ms. Rubens, left her position as the Director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Eastern Area Office in Philadelphia last October to become director of the St. Paul, Minn., VA regional office. She charged the VA  $129,467 for her moving expenses.  

The OIG’s allegations that these two VA officials orchestrated transfers as a means to bill the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars is deeply troubling.  In addition, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs just this week issued the first subpoena in the Committee’s history to compel Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves to testify on these issues.[2] 

The VA OIG’s report raises significant questions on how these types of situations are handled across the federal government.  Accordingly, we ask:  

1.      What safeguards are in place to prevent this type of manipulation of the federal employment process from occurring across the federal government? 

a.       In your best estimate, were they followed in the cases of Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves?  If not, why not? 

b.      What could have caused existing safeguards to fail in the VBA?

c.       Are there additional processes and procedures that could be put into place government-wide to prevent abuses of the federal employment process like those uncovered by the VA OIG from occurring?

2.      Is there a role for the Office of Personnel Management in providing oversight that could prevent these types of occurrences? 

3.      Understanding that the General Services Administration is charged with implementing federal policies regarding employee relocation and the reimbursement of relocation expenses, is there or should there be a role for OPM in setting reimbursement requirements?  

4.      Please describe what procedures exist at OPM or at other federal agencies to identify exorbitant relocation costs and prevent them from being reimbursed. Specifically:

a.       What is done to recoup relocation overpayments deemed to be inappropriate?

b.      Are there best practices OPM can recommend to help agencies prevent reimbursement of relocation overpayments and recoup fraudulent relocation overpayments?

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is authorized by Rule XXV of the Standing Rules of the Senate to investigate “the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of all agencies and departments of the Government.”[3]  Additionally, S. Res. 73 (114th Congress) authorizes the Committee to examine “the efficiency and economy of all branches and functions of Government with particular references to the operations and management of Federal regulatory policies and programs.”[4]

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to receiving your response.   

The text of the letter to GSA is below:

Dear Administrator Roth:

A recently published Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report[5] has alleged that senior VA employees acted improperly by orchestrating job openings, steering themselves into the new positions at higher salaries than their predecessors, and reaping large relocation payments to move to begin employment in these new jobs. These are serious allegations, which led to the VA OIG making criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding the actions of two VA officials.  We ask your assistance in understanding what procedures are in place to prevent the abuse of taxpayer dollars in relocation expenses.  

Specifically, according to the OIG report, Diana Rubens arranged her own re-assignment from her post as Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations in Washington, D.C. to that of Director of the Philadelphia and Wilmington VA Regional Offices in June 2014.  During her transition to her new position, Ms. Rubens allegedly billed the VA $274,019 for her move to Philadelphia and to arrange for new housing. Additionally, the OIG found that Kimberly Graves, working in concert with Ms. Rubens, left her position as the Director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Eastern Area Office in Philadelphia last October to become director of the St. Paul, Minn., VA regional office. She charged the VA  $129,467 for her moving expenses.  

The OIG’s allegations that these two VA officials orchestrated transfers as a means to bill the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars is deeply troubling.  In addition, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs just this week issued the first subpoena in the Committee’s history to compel Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves to testify on these issues.[6]   


The VA OIG’s report raises significant questions about how relocation reimbursements are handled across the federal government. Since the General Services Administration manages the federal relocation policies, we ask your assistance on how to prevent the future waste of taxpayer dollars through relocation expenses.  Accordingly, we ask:   

1.      Please describe the procedures and requirements in place when an employee seeks reimbursement for relocation expenses (i.e. eligibility, paperwork, documentation requirements, etc.).  

a.       In your best estimate, were these procedures followed in the cases of Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves?  If not, why not?
  

2.      Please describe what safeguards exist to prevent exorbitant relocation fees from being paid in agencies across the federal government. Specifically:

a.       Who is responsible for monitoring relocation expenses to ensure they are reasonable, and to recoup fraudulent relocation overpayments?

b.      Are there best practices GSA can recommend to help agencies prevent fraudulent relocation overpayments and recoup fraudulent relocation overpayments? 

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is authorized by Rule XXV of the Standing Rules of the Senate to investigate “the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of all agencies and departments of the Government.”[7]  Additionally, S. Res. 73 (114th Congress) authorizes the Committee to examine “the efficiency and economy of all branches and functions of Government with particular references to the operations and management of Federal regulatory policies and programs.”[8] 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to receiving your response.

With best personal regards, we are

 

        Sincerely yours, 

Ron Johnson                                                               Thomas R. Carper

Chairman                                                                     Ranking Member