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VA official agrees that bonus review needed

Sep. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Vets Fight To Keep Hospital Opened
A Veterans Affairs official acknowledged the need to study the agency's approach to awarding bonuses to top executives. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

The Veterans Affairs Department’s top health official on Monday acknowledged the need to study the agency’s approach for awarding bonuses to top executives.

“I would agree that reviewing the performance awards is appropriate,” Dr. Robert Petzel, the V.A.’s under secretary for health, said at the hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in Pittsburgh. Petzel’s comment followed a question from the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., on whether he agreed with the need for a “top to bottom” review of the bonus system.

In his opening statement, Miller had cited Michael Moreland, a regional VA director who oversees veterans healthcare in Pittsburgh, as one of a number of agency officials around the country who received bonuses or excellent performance reviews despite serious problems at facilities for which they had responsibility.

According to Miller, Moreland accepted a $63,000 Presidential Distinguished Rank Award in April days after the VA inspector general reported “persistent mismanagement” in the agency’s handling of an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Pittsburgh.

But in a statement issued later in response to questions from Federal Times, David Cowgill, a VA spokesman in Pittsburgh, said that Moreland received the full award last September, or about seven months before release of the IG report.

In Atlanta, the VA gave nearly $65,000 in bonuses to the head of a medical center where the IG determined that mismanagement led to the suicides of two patients and the fatal drug overdose of a third, according to Miller.

VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon could not be reached for comment late Monday on whether the agency had a timetable or planned specific steps to examining its approach to handing out bonuses. In an earlier email, Dillon said that fiscal 2012 performance awards for some senior executives in the Pennsylvania and Southeast medical networks have been deferred pending further review “and are not being paid at this time.”

The VA has also reduced the top awards in relation to executives’ base pay, Dillon said. Last year, the highest award was 9 percent of salary, compared to 17.5 percent of salary in 2009, she said.

But complaints that VA career exectuives are incompetent and overpaid are “counter-productive” and could lead some to go elsewhere, Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, said in a letter last week to Miller and Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, the committee’s top Democrat.

While all employees should be held accountable for their performance, Bonosaro wrote, “all indications suggest that the federal career executive corps is an extremely hard-working, dedicated and effective group of senior managers who work to maintain the public trust.”

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